Sunday, January 17, 2016

Bad Bills: #WaLeg Can We Talk? (part one)

Because this is what I do for fun, I went through all the bills that have been introduced into the Washington State Legislature and I noticed more than a few bills that will likely go under the radar but will have an enormous, negative impact on marginalized Washingtonians.

First off, House Bill 2488.

HB 2488, otherwise known as the "Academic Bill of Rights" seeks to clarify how, when, and for what reasons campuses can or cannot restrict speech or how professors teach their classes.  In the first section, essentially its "preamble," it reads

The legislature finds that free speech is one of the most important values protected by the federal and state Constitutions. The legislature also finds that free expression on the campuses of Washington's public colleges and universities is particularly important for fostering a true marketplace of ideas, where students can be exposed to a variety of ideas and learn tolerance for those ideas with which they disagree. The history of university life has been to introduce students to ideas, concepts, and values they may object to or even be offended by. The legislature finds that speech on Washington's campuses has been chilled by increasing regulations that are not viewpoint neutral. It is the intent of the legislature to afford campus speech the highest level of judicial protection
This is an admirable goal, but the actual legislation seems to be trying to solve a problem that does not exist because other than the following section, it more or less affirms how the law acts on college campuses:

(1) An institution of higher education must allow a faculty or staff member to use trigger warnings at the faculty or staff member's discretion. 
(2) An institution of higher education may not take, or maintain a policy or rule that allows it to take, punitive action against a faculty or staff member, with respect to tenure, promotion, or disciplinary action, for not using trigger warnings.
Trigger warnings (or content warnings) are an essential part of accessibility on college campuses for psychiatrically disabled (mentally ill) students and, despite the claims misinformed columnists, are not actually an attempt at censorship; it does not infringe on academic freedom. The function of a content warning is to allow a student to engage the material by preparing themselves for triggering material. A trigger warning is nondescript, i.e. it is not a "spoiler."

If, for example, a video involves depictions of sexual assault, a professor will just say "this material includes depictions of sexual assault" so that a student who may be triggered by this can prepare for it. It does not mean a student does not engage the material. That trigger warnings are an essential accommodation for students with disabilities means that it is not unreasonable for them to be demanded (just like ramps and curb-cuts were by the Rolling Quads), but that they must become part of classrooms.

This legislation threatens the important work of student activists and the accessibility of college and must be defeated.

Second, HB 2513. 

HB 2513 relates to Washington State's truancy laws. It adds this language:
In conjunction with an order to attend issued pursuant to subsection (1) (a) through (c) of this section, a court is encouraged to order the child to: (a) Complete and submit to the teacher all required assignments in all of his or her classes; and (b) Submit to the court, on a monthly basis, satisfactory proof that there has been compliance with the requirement to complete and submit all assignments and that the child is showing positive progress toward passing each class at the end of the term
Truancy law is already incredibly awful and only exists because of a flawed model of coercion-based education; this just makes it even worse. There are literally so many reasons why a student might choose not to attend school that does not have to do with some sort of moral defect these legislators are trying to solve. A few of the reasons could be that they feel unsafe at school because they are LGBTQAI (or specifically transgender) or racialized etc., they're chronically ill/disabled, their teachers are abusing them, they are depressed, and the list goes on and, really, who thought this legislation was a good idea?

The fact that all other students (except those with ridiculous IEP goals) are not expected--much less required by a court--to do all of their assignments notwithstanding, without proper supports this can be impossible for a large amount of students disproportionately impacted by truancy law. In effect, all this law does is criminalize marginalized students and expand the school-to-prison pipeline, of which the most impacted are disabled people of color. Furthermore, this legislation only puts more paperwork into the hands of case managers, general education teachers, and students who are just trying to teach and learn respectively. For a body that says it cares about quality education, it sure seems to try to lower it a lot.

This is one of the many, many cases where legislators do not actually know how schools (or students) work. This legislation threatens the lives of Washington's students, particularly more oppressed/marginalized students and must be defeated.

Update: The Tacoma Ledger has provided a more in-depth article on HB 2513. It can be found here. 


In part two I will discuss HB 2541 and HB 2589. (edit: didn't happen, now out of date anyway)

I have chosen to wait on those because I want to research them more and give a more in-depth argument about them. Expect it and a step-by-step discussion of OSPI's rules on SHB 1240 (restraint and isolation) by the end of this week.

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