Washington School District Approves Race-Based Student Discipline

The Clover Park School District in Washington state approved a new disciplinary policy last month that encourages school administrators to take race into consideration when deciding on student discipline. The policy tells school personnel to establish disciplinary policies that adapt to individualized needs in a “culturally responsive manner.”

Critics argue that the new policy will encourage punishment decisions to be made based on race. The district claims that it is only following a Washington statute enacted last year that orders school districts to “align” with standards on cultural competency, equity, inclusion, and diversity. It also says that the guidelines are not race-based.

Board President Alyssa Anderson Pearson said in a statement that the policy contains “no such provision” that would make race a “determining factor” in administering discipline. She added that the policy is based on a model issued by the Washington State School Directors Association which has been “adopted by multiple school districts.”

Board member Anthony Veliz asked at a board meeting for a real-world example of what “cultural discipline” might mean. Pearson responded by laughing and handed the question to Acting Superintendent Brian Laubach.

Laubach said that the policy refers to asking if staff is equitably “dispersing discipline across the ethnicities and racial groups.”

Veliz ultimately voted in favor of the policy.

Board member Paul Wagemann voted against the policy and described it as “poorly defined.” He said that until the entire board had discussed the definitions, they were negligent to send it forward. He added that in order to be fair, equal violations should result in equal discipline.

John Arbeeny, former deputy mayor of the city of Lakewood inside the district, expressed his concerns in a letter published by the Suburban Times. He wrote that “culturally responsive” is a deceptive term for racially or ethnically based discipline. He claimed the policy was aimed at “evening out the numbers” of disciplinary actions across racial and ethnic groups or “some other unspecified criteria.”

Conservative Seattle commentator Jason Rantz wrote in a column that the policy means “favorable treatment of racial minorities in practice.” He argued that it would mean harsher punishment for white students than for other groups for identical behavior.

Progressives seem to easily forget how race-based legal initiatives have worked out in the U.S. in years past. Just because discrimination is marked for a “just” application is no guarantee that it will result in ways that are consistent with the founding principle of equal justice under law. In fact, it is almost certain to ensure the opposite result.