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Spokane Public Schools proposal would revamp policies on bullying and harassment to be more ‘restorative’

April 10, 2022 Updated Tue., April 12, 2022 at 8:33 p.m.

The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street is seen Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019.   (JESSE TINSLEY/Associated Press)
The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street is seen Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019.  (JESSE TINSLEY/Associated Press)

Spokane Public Schools is poised to make substantial changes to its policies and procedures on harassment, intimidation and bullying.

If the school board approves the policy change at its meeting Wednesday night, the district would rely more heavily on restorative practices, where victims and offenders attempt to reconcile, but also use a district ombudsperson to help resolve disputes.

The proposal adds language to speed up the resolution process, but also clarifies options for a targeted student in appealing any decision made by the school or district.

The district first formalized its policies on bullying in 2011, and the proposed changes are the most comprehensive since then. The proposed revisions are one of eight policy documents on Wednesday’s agenda.

The revisions are on the table as the district faces an FBI investigation into allegations by Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl that it was discouraging school leaders from calling police following acts of student violence in schools or on district grounds.

The document covering bullying and harassment is technically unrelated to Meidl’s allegations.

The policy already contained language stating that “if there is potential for clear and immediate physical harm to the complainant, the district will immediately contact law enforcement and inform the parent or guardian.”

However, the district appeared to bolster its commitment to restorative practices, a phrase that was added several times to the new document.

Previous versions of the policy promised that “investigations are prompt, impartial, and thorough,” to which the new document adds language stating that those investigations are “conducted in a manner that reflects the district’s commitment to restorative practices, procedural fairness, and equity.”

The district defines harassment, intimidation, or bullying as “an intentional electronic, written, verbal, or physical act that: physically harms a student or damages the student’s property; has the effect of interfering with a student’s education; is so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it creates an intimidating or threatening educational environment; or has the effect of disrupting the orderly operation of the school.”

As before, the district will rely on its compliance officer to serve as its primary contact for harassment, intimidation, or bullying. If the allegations in a written report indicate a potential violation, the district staff member who receives the report must promptly notify the district compliance officer.

Also unchanged are rules calling for investigations to be completed no later than five school days from the initial complaint or report.

“If more time is needed to complete an investigation, the district will provide the parent/guardian and/or the student with weekly updates,” current language states.

No later than two school days after the investigation has been completed and submitted to the compliance officer, the principal or a designee will issue written investigation findings and deliver them virtually or in person to the parent/guardian of the complainant and the alleged aggressor. If the complainant or parent complainant, parent or guardian is dissatisfied with the results of the investigation, they may appeal to the superintendent or designee by filing a written notice of appeal within five school days of receiving the written decision.

The role of the district ombudsperson also is clarified in the 10-page document.

The officer would be expected to support the resolution of complaints as a neutral facilitator, serve as a resource to all parties and work with the district compliance officer to track trends to identify needs for additional training and changes to policy and procedure.

If a student or family prefers to have an external ombudsperson, the district ombudsperson will connect the student or family with a trained community member who is contracted with the district to provide this service.

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