School board talks policies with state lawmakers

November 12, 2013

By Neil Pierson

Prior to the Issaquah School Board’s Oct. 30 meeting, the five-member board and Superintendent Ron Thiele met with four state lawmakers to discuss how public schools were impacted by this year’s legislative session.

The board had about 90 minutes to speak with Rep. Ross Hunter (D-48th District), Rep. Tana Senn (D-41st), Sen. Mark Mullet (D-5th) and Rep. Chad Magendanz (R-5th), a former Issaquah School Board president.

Board member Anne Moore said the group “had a great conversation” surrounding several issues, including school finances resulting from the state budget; the new Common Core State Standards and Smarter Balanced assessment tests that students will deal with next year; and the end in 2018 of a levy lid lift allowing districts to request more voter-approved dollars.

Board President Brian Deagle said legislators inquired how Issaquah spent an additional $3.1 million from the state this year, an amount that represents 1 percent of the district’s total revenue.

Part of the money, Deagle said, has been invested in a partnership with Swedish Medical Center to get more mental-health professionals inside schools.

During the meeting, the board heard about the recent suicide of a Liberty High School sophomore. Thiele said that while most issues aren’t as severe as that, officials are aware of the pressures students face in terms of academics and socialization.

“That’s one of the hardest things that a school district ever has to deal with, trying to put more support in the schools for issues around mental health,” Thiele said.

Board member Marnie Maraldo started a discussion around recent changes to a law that largely affects special-education students.

Over the past couple of weeks, Maraldo said, she has spoken with Marilyn Holm, Issaquah’s executive director of special services, about House Bill 1688. The legislation targets the uses of restraint and isolation in schools.

The law requires districts to provide information on restraint and isolation to families of students in an Individualized Education Program or 504 Plan. IEPs are required for all special-needs students, and 504s are for disabled students who wish to participate in regular classroom settings.

The law allows “reasonable and moderate” physical discipline, but prohibits school officials from physically threatening a student or causing injuries beyond “minor temporary marks,” a bill analysis from the House Education Committee stated. Devices for restraining a student can include handcuffs or plastic zip ties.

HB 1688 also details the proper use of isolation, which must be spelled out in a student’s IEP or 504 Plan. Isolation must be done in an area that’s well-lit, well-ventilated and allows an adult to continuously monitor the student.

However, restraint and isolation aren’t included as corrective actions in most IEPs or 504s, so Issaquah officials believe there’s no reason to disseminate the information to those families.

“It’s still going to freak people out,” Maraldo said. “I would think this is a minor change to the legislation that would make a major difference to our families.”

Special-education instructors are trained multiple times each year regarding the usages of isolation and restraint, Holm said. They’re taught to use those tactics as last resorts for intervention — only if a student’s behavior may injure themselves or others.

Holm said she thought the new legislation went too far.

“The process is only intended to be used when safety is an issue,” she said about isolation or restraint. “And I think Marnie said it all. We believe it is a bit of an overkill, but this is what’s been required under the law.”

The board could vote at a future date to take a stance against HB 1688. Thiele said he didn’t agree with the law as it’s written, and indicated that it has negatively affected Holm and the district’s special-needs instructors.

“It’s a fix that needs to happen to a piece of legislation,” Thiele said.

 

 

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