Sunday, October 30, 2016

Bellevue School District Policy Ideas:

These were specific proposals I made in my run for school board last year that I have decided to take from my site ericforschools.com (now closed) and import to here. 
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POLICY IDEA: Teaching Effective Self-Advocacy:

Self-advocacy is a life-skill needed by all students: these skills will help them navigate school and, importantly, help keep administrators, teachers, and para-educators accountable for when they break the law (such as IDEA) and actively create, support, and/or do nothing to stop oppressive structures in the classroom. After graduation, they are important for the professional world and being an active participant in democracy.

So what is self-advocacy?

Self-advocacy is simply actions a person takes to address a personal issue (“my special education teacher won't allow me to mainstream even though I think I can be”) or a group issue (“systemically, our district disregards the least restrictive environment requirement in IDEA”). Self-advocacy can appear like many things; in fact, you would be hard-pressed to find an action that is not a form of self-advocacy.

Many times, students employ the use of self-advocacy tactics that are either not recognized by school staff, responded with escalation of the disagreement, or is an escalation within itself. It is, then, important to teach more effective strategies and create a common language for students and staff to use for students to communicate their needs, disagreements, and anything else within the realm of self-advocacy.

The fostering and teaching of self-advocacy skills is quite possibly the most important reform/structure I am proposing. It will improve the lives of students and hold the Bellevue School District accountable.

This reform will empower students to:

  • Effectively communicate their needs as a student
  • Use the anti-bullying systems Washington State has put in place
  • Stand up for fellow students and themselves
  • Challenge school/district practices
  • Engage the district politically for issues that matter to them
  • Take responsibility for their school community
  • Currently, students are not taught their rights and do not know the power they have as a group to advocate for their needs. When school staff do not follow the law or do things that students do not feel are correct as in the example above, there are few known avenues to address them—and it is rare for students to feel like they can.
This makes it more difficult for our schools and the district to address the needs of students. For example, at Sammamish High School there was a great deal of discussion last year about mandatory AP classes (AP Human Geography and AP Government/Comparative Government). Many students felt it was inappropriate to be forced to take AP classes and raised serious concerns about its effect on their mental health and general quality of life. Whole classrooms would very suddenly air grievances with this policy.

So why did no one hear about it? Students do not effectively have formal ways of expressing their thoughts to the district since they may not exist, are not empowered to use the ones that do exist, and may not know of the ones that do exist.

Student issues such as
  • Class sizes
  • Student mental health policy
  • Accessible classrooms
  • Electives/student choice
  • Diverse books
  • Content of school lunches
  • Testing
  • Life skills and College/Career Readiness
  • Bullying
  • All-gender restrooms
  • And others, most of which are dependent on the school, will finally be addressed in a way that takes student voice into account.
What would a self-advocacy curriculum look like?

Ideally, it should feature
  • What rights and systems of accountability students have
  • How to use those systems of accountability
  • Past successes of self-advocates (such as People First)
  • Past failures of self-advocates
  • A focus on building school community/student solidarity
Who should teach it?

It should be integrated into the elementary school curriculum and taught in either History, English, or both in secondary school (middle and high school). The exact details should come from a great deal of student, teacher, and parent input.

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POLICY IDEA: Improved Advisory Committees

The Bellevue School District utilizes advisory committees for various reasons: to engage the community, better inform decision/policy makers, and to innovate solutions to pressing issues. The Proactive and Preventative Discipline Committee is an important and good example of this as it has been assessing the crisis of disproportionality and working on solutions—and the district has responded. Unfortunately, the current committee structure cannot fully address the challenges we face as a district because it is inaccessible to a broad range of people and implicitly excludes important voices, such as student voice.

Because of this, I am proposing a new committee structure that will better engage the community, bring in more diverse perspectives, and more effectively inform policy makers, and create the solutions our students deserve. They will address both specific policy questions (ex. restraint and seclusion) and larger topics (ex. sexism in schools). They will be maintained until it is no longer relevant which for some will take a longer time than others.
Those involved will be
  • Students directly affected by a policy
  • Parents
  • Teachers and para-educators
  • School Administrators
  • Adult representatives (i.e. people who have been affected by an issue or policy in the BSD or another district who can share personal experience and insight about it. For example, a representative from the NAACP of King County or GLSEN Washington.)
  • Experts on a given topic (ex. The disability/special needs committee might have a Disability Studies professor from the University of Washington.)
  • Board Members and District policy makers
  • Anyone else from the community
To make the committee accessible, the committee will be given a budget for transportation, accessibility tools (such as AAC devices), accessible spaces, and some compensation for committee members' work. These committees will not and should not be treated as all-volunteer because that is inaccessible to a great deal of people—particularly those who we need to hear from the most.

There are four committees that seems especially important now include issues regarding:
  • Disability
  • Racism 
  • LGBT 
  • Sexism 
  • Restraint and Seclusion 
In addition, when a committee is on a broader topic they may choose to either focus on a few specific policy issues related to it or create a sub-committee. In addition, these sub-committees could be made up of people from two separate committees. What would this look like? If a committee on LGBT issues and a committee on sexism, for example, were to find that a specific policy issue affects LGBT girls in a unique way that would needs to be addressed, the two committees would task people from both to advise the district on how to change or better implement their policies.

To those familiar with how Bellevue School District committees work, this probably seems familiar but there are key differences:
  • Stated inclusion of important voices who traditionally are not included
  • Compensation/not all-volunteer
  • Greater transparency
  • A focus on accessibility
  • Its continuation until an issue is solved for 
  • The creation of sub-committees 
It is my hope that along with the other structural changes made to how Bellevue School District engages the public and holds itself accountable, we can create the schools that our students deserve.

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