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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Public Schools approves new use-of-force, campus safety policy

School resource officer Ed Richardson greets students at Mullan Road Elementary in Spokane on  March 9, 2017. Spokane public schools have proposed a change in policy reguarding use of force. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane Public Schools board of directors approved a campus safety policy that creates stricter use-of-force guidelines and requires quarterly data reporting.

The policy has been in the making for months, with several iterations previously appearing before the board. During the past two years the state’s second largest district has changed how it handles discipline, which has led to a reduction in student arrests and suspensions.

The board voted 4-0 with one abstention to implement the final version of the policy Wednesday night. Newly appointed board member Michael Wiser abstained.

The changes are due partially to concerns raised by the ACLU and Spokane community members last year that the use-of-force policy was too much like the Spokane Police Department guidelines. Those concerns were raised during a board meeting and during a series of meetings convened by Superintendent Shelley Redinger.

Members of the Every Student Counts Alliance took issue with two points in the new policy, although representatives at the meeting said overall they were happy.

“It’s a good example of collaboration,” said Nikki Lockwood. “I’m hoping this means we are experiencing a culture shift in how we treat the kids and behaviors.”

In the new policy parents and students have 10 business days to file a complaint against a campus resource officer. Members of the Every Student Counts Alliance asked that be extended to 30 days to make it more family friendly.

However, district administrators argued that the 10-day window will encourage prompt resolutions and decisions. The board sided with administrators.

“It prompts a prompt investigation of a complaint,” said board member Sue Chapin at the Wednesday board meeting.

Board member Jerrall Haynes emphasized that the policy can be revised, if necessary.

“If issues arise with our policies they can and will be changed,” he said.

Rosey Thurman, a lawyer with Team Child, said she believes the 10-day window is a legal decision designed to protect the district. She worries that a short time frame like that means video footage of an incident won’t be available to parents if they do file a complaint.

Lockwood wanted a longer window for complaints to give families more time to process and take stock. For families with limited resources, she worries the 10-day window might be prohibitively short.

Vanessa Hernandez, youth policy director for the ACLU of Washington, said the policy is unique within the state.

“I’m not aware of any other school district in Washington state that has a comprehensive public policy on policing,” she said.

At the same time, Spokane Public Schools is unique because it has its own police force, unlike most districts. This means the district needs a more comprehensive policy, Hernandez said.

“There are many parts of the policy that are strong and steps in the right direction,” Hernandez said.

However, she added, “I’m concerned about the impact of a limited appeals. Or a limited time frame for filing complaints.”

The Every Student Counts Alliance also wanted it to be possible for complaints against officers to be appealed directly to the school board. Instead, complaints will be reviewed by Redinger, like normal personnel matters.

“Despite that there is absolutely nothing that prevents a particular parent from coming to the board and making an open comment,” Thurman said.

Still, like other parents and activists at the meeting, Thurman was happy with the overall outcome.

“I think they did an amazing job of getting this to where they’ve gotten it tonight,” Thurman said.