The Seattle Times | December 30, 2022
Homeless students in Washington face the most severe punishments from school — suspension and expulsion — at almost three times the rate of their housed peers. A child’s housing status is an even greater predictor of discipline than race.
But while a major overhaul in the state education department’s discipline policy, passed in 2016, aimed to fix that racial disparity, there has been almost nothing done specifically for homeless students, even as education officials say they are well aware of the gap.
Children forced to leave school for their behavior are less likely to graduate — already a major obstacle for homeless students — and the likelihood of becoming involved in the juvenile legal system goes up.
“We need to reconcile or reckon with the fact that, like, ‘Are we OK with this?’” said Daniel Narváez Zavala, executive director of Building Changes, a Seattle organization that works with school districts to better support homeless students. “If we are not OK with that, we need to do something different.”
…SchoolHouse Connection, and other policy organizations, such as Building Changes, have recommended measures for closing the discipline gap both nationally and locally. These include incorporating school staff who support homeless students early in the disciplinary process, more trauma and homelessness training, and consideration of a child’s housing status before removal from school, among other measures.
Narváez Zavala of Building Changes said that as educators understand more about how students learn differently and as they create a variety of methods for teaching, they need to address discipline the same way.
“It’s not just the cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach,” Narváez Zavala said.
He said that when discipline is applied in the same way, across a broad range of students, homeless students experience it more harshly — unlike their housed peers, they are being removed from possibly one of the only places that provides a sense of stability and safety.