Seattle Hall Pass Podcast

E21 - The 2024 Legislative Session begins

January 16, 2024 Christie Robertson & Jane Tunks Demel Season 1 Episode 21
E21 - The 2024 Legislative Session begins
Seattle Hall Pass Podcast
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Seattle Hall Pass Podcast
E21 - The 2024 Legislative Session begins
Jan 16, 2024 Season 1 Episode 21
Christie Robertson & Jane Tunks Demel

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The Washington State legislative session started on Monday, January 8th. Jane and Christie talk through some of what is happening in Olympia that pertains to education.

Some topics include: the governor's budget, district funding bills, student mental health, restraint and isolation, special education, and gun responsibility.

Show notes

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Music by Sarah, the Illstrumentalist, logo by Carmen Lau-Woo.
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Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

The Washington State legislative session started on Monday, January 8th. Jane and Christie talk through some of what is happening in Olympia that pertains to education.

Some topics include: the governor's budget, district funding bills, student mental health, restraint and isolation, special education, and gun responsibility.

Show notes

Support the Show.

Music by Sarah, the Illstrumentalist, logo by Carmen Lau-Woo.
Sign up for our newsletter

Seattle Hall Pass - E21 - Legislative Session


[00:00:00] Christie Robertson: Welcome to Seattle Hall Pass, a podcast with news and conversations about Seattle Public Schools. My name is Christie Robertson.

[00:00:14] Jane Tunks Demel: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel. The legislative session started on Monday, January 8th. We want to walk you through some of what is happening in Olympia that pertains to education.

[00:00:25] Christie Robertson: This episode is slightly longer than usual, and it is about legislative ins and outs. If you are interested in that kind of thing, I hope that you find it enlightening. In this episode, we talk about the governor's budget and some different themes we're seeing among the bills that are being introduced and the conversations that are being had. Several items related to district funding, some aspects of student mental health, in particular restraint and isolation. We talk about a couple of special education items and a smattering of other things.

[00:01:01] Jane Tunks Demel: And by way of background, this year is a short session. The legislature has two-year cycles. They call biennia. In odd years, they make a budget and session that lasts 105 days. So that was last year. And then the following year, in even years like this one, they have a session that lasts 60 days. 

And typically in the shorter sessions, they really only amend the budget instead of introducing large spending items. They also pass bills that don't impact the budget.

District Funding

[00:01:35] Christie Robertson: Let's start going through some themes of this year. The first theme is district funding. 

In Seattle, we are definitely feeling the pinch of dealing with an ongoing structural budget deficit.  In our last three episodes, we brought you parent and teacher stories from schools that had to have really radical adjustments just to save a teacher here and there. 

There are also budget issues impacting districts across the state. For example, there are three school districts this year that have gone into binding conditions, which means they were not able to balance their budgets, and they now have to have special monitoring. Usually, there's only one district every few years. So it's vastly increased. 

[00:02:25] Jane Tunks Demel: And also, OSPI has predicted that next year it could be up to 10 districts that go into binding conditions. As Christie also noted when we were preparing for this episode, the state budget had traditionally paid about 50 percent of its budget to education, but for this biennium, it's only 42%.

[00:02:34] Christie Robertson: Let's talk about how the legislature is thinking about school funding. One early indication came from the legislative session preview that was hosted by a coalition of journalists the Thursday before legislative session began, on January 4th. It was broadcast on TVW. We'll put a link to it in the notes. 

If you haven't checked out and you're interested in the legislature, definitely go take a look. It's a nonprofit organization that broadcasts all legislative procedures. There was a time when you couldn't access these sessions remotely at all. The increased involvement that people can have with their legislators and with the lawmaking process due to the work of TVW is really quite remarkable. 

So at this legislative preview, the reporters talked to different panels of legislators about the upcoming session. And then the governor talked about his budget. 

But they started off the whole thing with a presentation of this poll that they do every year. Stuart Elway is apparently a famous pollster. I hadn't heard of him, but everybody was bowing down to him, all the press people. Stuart Elway put up a table of what people said were the most important issues to them from 2014 to 2024. 

It's fascinating to see the shifts, in particular for education. The highest number for education that people said was their most important issue was 45%. And that was in 2017. 

[00:04:29] Jane Tunks Demel: Then, it dropped when the pandemic hit. In 2021, 52% of people's top issue was COVID.

[00:04:34] Christie Robertson:  For this year, education, only 9 percent of people said it was among their most important issues. I wonder if part of what's happening for our legislators is they don't think that people think it's that important.

[00:04:50] Jane Tunks Demel: And another thing that happens early in the process is the governor proposes a budget. Christie, can you explain that? 

[00:05:01] Christie Robertson: So the governor proposes a budget. The governor says, “here's what I would want to do if I were controlling the money.” And then the legislature gives that budget a number and treats it like a bill. This is what I'm surmising from what I'm seeing happen this week.

And then it goes to money related committees like Ways and Means, and Appropriations, and Finance. And Capital Budget, I think is the other one. And gets hearings.

In the education world, it's mostly gotten cold reception. I've now heard from several education advocacy related parties that it's trying to pretend like it's an education friendly budget, and it's not. One thing that it proposes, education wise, is that paraeducators will get a $3 an hour raise. 

[00:05:55] Jane Tunks Demel: Currently, the state only funds one paraeducator per elementary school. And as we all know, there's usually at least a dozen paraeducators in any elementary school, even the smaller ones. And if they raise the pay for that position $3 an hour, it would be an unfunded mandate, because the state would only cover the extra $3 an hour for one paraeducator, and then the district would be on the hook for finding a way to pay for all the other paraeducators.

[00:06:15] Christie Robertson: Here's representative Travis Couture in the House Appropriations committee, asking about the downstream effects of the paraeducator raises. And then you'll hear the response from David Schumacher, from the governor's office. 

[00:06:42] Travis Couture: You mentioned paraeducators as a part of the governor's budget. He's going to increase the pay of the state funded paras. 

[00:06:49] David Schumacher: Yes. 

[00:06:49] Travis Couture: Is there any money budgeted in the governor's budget for, um, when other employees who are not paras, a part of those bargaining units, also ask for pay increases? 

[00:07:02] David Schumacher: There is no money There is no other money for, for other parts of, of K 12 that, that get extra raises.

The short answer is no, right? The, the governor thought, and especially the connection with special ed, and the, the difficulty of teaching special ed in classes, that a combination of increasing the funding. On the special ed cap and paras to make sure we have enough paras helping out in the classroom was his priority. 

[00:07:43] Christie Robertson: There, David Schumacher is referring to another main education funding proposal in the governor's budget. And that is to raise the cap on special education funding. 

To understand this, you need to know that when a child is qualified to receive special education services by way of an IEP - an Individual Education Plan - the way the state manages the funding is that that child gets a flat extra allotment on top of their general education allotment from the state. 

But the state will only give that extra funding up to a certain percentage of the population at a given district, regardless of how many kids in that district are disabled. So it maxes out. Last year it was 13.5%, and they raised it to 15%. This year, they're discussing raising it from 15% to 17.25%.

[00:09:00] Jane Tunks Demel: Christie, I have a question, since I'm not as well versed in special education as you are. The first time I heard special education students referred to as disabled, it surprised me a little bit. So I'm wondering if you can just explain that term. 

[00:09:15] Christie Robertson: Yeah, the reason I use that term is because in order to qualify to get an IEP, you need to have a disability designation. So you might not think of dyslexia as a disability, but it is. And however many kids you have who are disabled need to have the funding to be able to access their basic education. 

[00:09:28] Jane Tunks Demel: And what is an IEP? 

[00:09:30] Christie Robertson: An individual education plan. That is the contract as to what services that student is going to receive in order to access their basic education. And someday we will have a whole big discussion about how flawed this model is, but for now, that's how it works.

 [00:09:45] Jane Tunks Demel: Thanks for explaining. 

[00:09:47] Christie Robertson: Sure. 

I was fascinated to notice last year that it's the Democrats who do not want to remove the cap and the Republicans who advocate to remove it. And it is holding true this year. I should note that our Seattle legislators are an exception to that. At least I know that my legislators in District 46 do believe in removing the cap. Especially Rep Gerry Pollet, who is an incredible education advocate. Here's Gerry Pollet in a clip from a 2023 session, one of the many times that he talked about this issue. 

[00:10:34] Rep Gerry Pollet: So having a cap on the number of students with disabilities that the state will provide funding for is, in my view, and I hope in yours, a choice that we can no longer make. It is unconscionable to say we know that there are, in some districts, 15%, 18% of the students identified with disabilities, but we're only going to provide 13.5% of the student population with funding. That's not an acceptable choice, when providing for their education is a matter of civil rights. 

[00:11:21] Christie Robertson: But, most Democrats, and especially the more senior ones who are in control of the key committees, do not want to remove that cap. 

[00:11:31] Jane Tunks Demel: Do you know why?

[00:11:32] Christie Robertson: Well, It doesn't make any sense to listen to them. It really just sounds like excuses. Let me play you a couple of Democrats at the legislative preview meeting on January 4th. 

You'll hear June Robinson, who's chair of the Ways & Means committee, and Tim Ormsby, who is chair of the Appropriations committee. 

These are clips from what they said in answer to a reporter who asked them if they supported the governor's proposal to raise the special education cap to 17.25%.

[00:12:09] Timm Ormsby: I share former Chair Rolfes’s opinion about not completely eliminating the cap, because this is about students and their families - their parents and them being able to access. It's not intended to be, uh, how would you describe that? It's not intended to cover school districts’ shortfalls and other areas by changing the enrollment numbers. It's intended to provide meaningful programmatic enhancements to students, and so that their families don't have to fight for, uh, their particular individual education plan, et cetera. 

[00:12:55] June Robinson: We made a significant investment in special ed last year, which I was very proud of, very glad that we could do that. I don't think that's completely worked its way through our school districts. They're just sort of adjusting to the increase that we gave for that particular program last year. So I don't know where we will end this year as we work through budget development and negotiations. But generally I would, you know, support additional funding towards raising that level for special ed.

[00:13:31] Christie Robertson: And to give you some contrast. Here's what Republicans Chris Corry and Linda Wilson said in answer to the same question. 

[00:13:40] Chris Corry: I'm supportive of increasing special education funding. I think that makes a lot of sense. I think an arbitrary cap doesn't, as we address needs of students. This is something that's been a house Republican priority. 

[00:13:52] Lynda Wilson: We actually advocated for removing the cap. So we will be in support. This is what I've heard from our districts in my in my district from my schools that the cap is an arbitrary number and it doesn't cover all of them. 

[00:14:08] Christie Robertson: Republicans are the ones giving these speeches about “remove the cap”. I want people to know that, because you should get on your democratic lawmakers. 

Senator Wellman is the one who talks about it the most. And she says she worries about over-identification of black and brown kids for services. 

She talked about this just this last Monday, in a hearing on Senate bill 6014, as chair of the Senate Education committee. This is a bill to raise the cap from 15 to 17.25%, as the governor's budget asks for. 

[00:14:44] Lisa Wellman: Let me just say that I have, as chair of the committee, I have some responsibility for maintaining the cap. 

I also sit on EOGOAC, which is the opportunity gap committee, which analyzes everything that we do in our education systems to see if it seems as though it's equitable, if there are populations that are not getting a fair shake. And one of the things that we have found is the fact that. unfortunately, there are, or have been cases where certain students, because they were disruptive in the classroom, while one person of a particular race while disruptive would be considered ”We need to put a little more help on this” or whatever. And another student of a different race might be, “let's send them to special ed; they'll take care of it.” 

I think it's really important to make sure that the people who are getting the services are people who need these specific services and for not any other reason. And right now, I'm not totally convinced that we can just open the door and say everybody who needs it, or who is deemed to need it is getting it for the right reasons. That they actually do need it.

[00:15:58] Christie Robertson: But what we know, in reality, is that there's both over-identification and under-identification. 

As a matter of fact, in Seattle, we had a really big problem a couple of years ago, where black and brown boys were being categorized as “Social Emotional Learners”, or before that “Emotional and Behavioral Disorder” or something, like at three times the rate as white kids. Just really egregious. At the same time, they are LESS to be in more inclusive programs. 

So, you're not going to solve a problem like racism by placing just a flat cap on the number of kids who can qualify for IEPs. So it's not a good excuse. 

 Ok, so. The governor proposed to raise that unconscionable cap to make it a higher unconscionable cap. And the $3 raise for paraeducators - the ones that actually are funded by the legislature. Those are the two things that governor Inslee says, make his proposal a great education budget. 

NOT in the governor's budget, and many people testified to this, which I was really happy about, are the OSPI Inclusionary Practices Project (IPP). That funding was drastically cut last year, and actually was like at risk of going away. And so I was glad to see a lot of people testifying that we really still need that. I don't see a bill about the Inclusionary Practices Project, so I wonder what's happening with that or if that's going to be just a budget thing. 

But Inslee's budget, again, it's just his suggestions. What really matters is which bills pass. For example, the governor's budget doesn't say anything about increasing personnel in schools, but there are several bills that do increase the number of personnel in schools, and they are making quick progress. The bills I'm aware of so far, there's 1960 and its companion is 5882. And then there's another bill, 1741. They each do different varieties of increasing different staff in the prototypical model that the legislature uses to fund our state's districts. Some also talk about salaries. Some talk about adjusting for high poverty. They have different timelines. 

This is that phase of the game where you wait to see which one proceeds along, and then also they're going to change as they go. So it becomes very confusing. 

[00:18:44] Jane Tunks Demel: But the bills as they are today, some of them do seem like significant increases, such as the doubling of paraeducators in elementary school. Although, remember, that's an increase from one to two. And also significant increases in middle and high school instructional assistants. Other staff who are increased in some of these bills are librarians, office staff, custodians, safety staff, counselors, and psychologists. 

[00:19:11] Christie Robertson: 5882 seems to be one that is moving forward at the moment, and there was a hearing about it on the 10th in the Senate Early Learning K-12 Education committee. Julie Salvi testified from the WEA, which is the educators; union that SEA is part of. She testified strongly in support of 5882.

[00:19:36] Julie Salvi: We wholeheartedly support the suggested increases in pay. But the shortages among paraeducators are tied not just to low wages but also have been exacerbated by workload issues, and we feel the legislature must tackle both the pay and the workload. This legislation is focused on investing more state funding to support the roles of paraeducators and office,support workers in our schools. As you've already heard, they play very key roles in individualizing instruction, interacting with families, helping with behavior support issues and so much more.

Over three years, the bill brings the state funding to the levels that were originally envisioned by the state's Quality Education Commission and enacted by voters in Initiative 1351. Those needs are still here today, and we ask you to support this legislation and move it out of committee. 

[00:20:27] Christie Robertson: Another interesting thing that came up in this same hearing in the Senate K-12 committee was this topic that you and I have been talking about, Jane, about the idea of distributing funds more equitably rather than equally. 

Here's Dave Larson from the Tukwila school board talking about this subject. I'll play the clip through because after his testimony, Senator Lisa Wellman, who is the chair of the committee sounds intrigued.

[00:20:56] Dave Larson: A recent report from the Education Law Center shows that Washington state is one of the few states that has a regressive education funding system because it provides a higher per student allocation for districts with low poverty rates than for districts with high poverty rates. 

NAEP scores show that Washington State has some of the largest income based achievement gaps in the country. 

In a recent editorial, the Seattle Times called for the legislature to fund education equitably. 

A recent policy debrief from the University of Washington calls for creating an equitable school funding system in Washington state in order to close achievement and opportunity gaps. The negative learning impact of the pandemic was higher in students with low income family, from low income families.

An amendment to make this bill equitable is not complicated. The legislature has done this before temporarily with counselors. In this case, it needs to be permanent. I urge an amendment to SB 5882 to allocate the additional FTE equitably - that is proportionally more for high poverty schools. Recovery with equity. Thank you. 

[00:21:58] Lisa Wellman: Thank you. Interesting. Thank you, 

[00:22:00] Christie Robertson: Other Bills that have to do with funding schools - there is a transportation one that's moving pretty quickly 5873 to provide an adjustment to the transportation funding formula that will give more to urban districts and also really rural districts, which each have their own transportation difficulties. And finally provide full funding for all of the students who the school district is required by federal law to transport. 

[00:22:34] Jane Tunks Demel: The federally required services, such as special education busing, or busing for students in foster care, or students experiencing homelessness. Transportation is one of the areas where Seattle Public Schools has a budget shortfall. 

[00:22:48] Christie Robertson: And some of those students are very expensive to transport, because they might be coming from vastly different areas of the city on different days. 

[00:22:57] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, students experiencing homelessness under McKinney Vento legislation, which is actually federal legislation, that requires districts to transport students to their home schools no matter where they're currently staying.

[00:23:11] Christie Robertson: Which is great. 

[00:23:12] Jane Tunks Demel: The state would only reimburse a district for yellow bus transportation. It doesn't make sense to have a yellow bus for one student, so the district has to use other methods of transportation that they wouldn't get reimbursed for. 

 This bill would fix all that stuff it would fully fund school transportation statewide. 

[00:23:31] Christie Robertson: So here's where I have to provide some cynicism. Last year was my first year where I closely watched the legislative session. And at the beginning of the session, I was like, " Wow, this is great! They could just pass all these bills, and all this amazing stuff happens." 

And like, so here's my warning. That bill that you're super excited about? First of all, it's very likely it's going to die somewhere in the process. Just like in that old “I'm Just a Bill” song from our childhoods. 

But also the ones that seem great? They're going to start to get whittled. So they'll start out saying for example, “Hey, we're going to fully fund all federally mandated transportation!” And then by the end, it's like, “Well, at least we're funding 25% of federally mandated transportation.”

But you still need to advocate. Because your bill is less likely to die if you advocate for it. And it is less likely to get whittled down to nothing if you advocate for it. 

[00:24:34] Jane Tunks Demel: So any of these bills that we're talking about, you can subscribe to them. You can track their progress. And whenever they're in the committee, you can sign in to support the bill. If you're really inspired, you can even give remote testimony. And these are the things that make a difference. 

Student Mental Health

[00:24:50] Christie Robertson: Let's move on to the next theme for this legislative session. And that. is student mental health. I would say one of the top priorities for students is mental health. So I am sad to say that I do not see bills related to student mental health directly.

[00:25:09] Jane Tunks Demel: The one that's increasing funding for certain positions in the prototypical school model, like that's for nurses, counselors?

[00:25:20] Christie Robertson: Yeah, it doesn't bring us up to even where Seattle is already, so it'll help our budget, but it's not going to give us any more people in schools. And also it is not directly targeted at mental health. I can play a bit of testimony about that. This is Bob Cooper, testifying about Senate bill 5882 to the Senate early learning K-12 committee. 

[00:25:49] Bob Cooper: Bob Cooper here for the National Association of Social Workers, state chapter. In support of the bill, as far as it goes. When I was reviewing bills and this one was pre-filed, the first section starts out, "Youth mental and behavioral health has been a rising crisis for a decade." I thought. “Great! We're going to get some more school, social workers, some clinical professionals into the classrooms around Washington.” 

And that doesn't happen. It's kind of like the lead sentence itself is false advertising. Would really love to see, in addition to what's in this bill, upping the number of school social workers, counselors and other mental health professionals. 

[00:26:30] Christie Robertson: One thing I can talk about under this category is restraint and isolation. We are in a just really tragic situation in our state, where we have some powerful legislators who believe that when kids have unexpected behaviors, they need to be held down and locked in room,s and that somehow that's going to help things.

This was really, really hard for me to watch last year. The bills 1479 and its companion 5559 got really far and then got blocked last minute. 

But there were two days of work sessions this year in the House to tease out a message that I don't feel like people are hearing, which is that kids act out when they are dysregulated. And disabled kids, some of them, have a harder time communicating. And they don't communicate that they are upset in ways that other kids do. 

But a kid who is acting out is trying to tell you that something's wrong. And if you try to imagine the last time that you were really upset, and imagine someone three times the size of you coming in and holding you down. Physically. And telling you to calm down.

It's been proven to be detrimental. More injuries happen to staff and certainly to kids with restraint and isolation. It absolutely causes long-term trauma that can severely impact future education and the relationships of the child. Costing our districts much more in the long run, in my belief. 

I have heard that the same people who blocked this last year have not changed their minds, and that this is very unlikely to pass this year. So I really appreciate Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos and the House Education committee for dedicating two days of work sessions and a day of hearings to this bill, even knowing that it probably was not going to progress. 

And that is why we're still taking the opportunity today to raise awareness as well. 

The two days of work sessions started off with a presentation from Disability Rights Washington and the ACLU, who came to present a comprehensive report that they published during legislative session last year about restraint and isolation in Washington Wtate, and the impacts of these practices. You can find this report by searching for the title - “An examination of restraint and isolation practices in Washington.” And it was based on. Many years of in-depth interviews and investigations. At districts around the state. And of course we'll also link it in the show notes. 

Here's Roxanna Gomez, who is the Youth Policy Program Director for the ACLU. I'm going to play you a few different clips from her presentation.  

[00:29:53] Roxanna Gomez: Elementary school students are by far and disproportionately affected by the use of isolation and restraint in public schools. Specifically kindergarten through fifth graders. And, the groups of students that are disproportionately affected by isolation and restraint include students with disabilities, low income students, male students, black students, multiracial students, homeless students, and foster care involved students. 

.... In 2019 To 2020, students with disabilities, even though they were only 15% of the enrollment. Within public schools we're 93% of the shares of restraint uses and 93 of isolation. 

... That makes them almost 29 times more likely to experience restraint in schools ... And for isolation they were almost 45 times more likely to experience isolation. So I just want to reemphasize the disparities of who this is happening to are huge. And which is why we put together this report. 

[00:30:54] Jane Tunks Demel:  And we played that introduction so that we can play you a question that was asked of Roxanna after the presentation. The person asking the question is Representative Joel McEntire from Legislative District 19, which is just east of Vancouver, Washington. He is the Assistant Ranking Minority member of the Education Committee in the house.

[00:31:10] Joel McEntire: My question is for Ms. Gomez, concerning the disparity slide that you showed. You said that you're, you were very concerned about the disparities in isolation and restraint. I was not surprised. That's what I would have expected, that you would not see equal use of isolation and restraint across societal demographics. Can you explain why you were so concerned about that? When it's kind of what I would have expected?

[00:31:44] Roxanna Gomez: I mean... Well, I appreciate the question. Of course we don't want to see any students, being isolated or restrained, but it is especially concerning when a small percentage of a population group is affected by the practice significantly more than other population groups. That is the concern. 

[00:32:07] Christie Robertson: I was very happy that on the third day, when they took testimony. Sam Fogg brought up that very question again. Sam Fogg is the immediate past president of the Seattle Council PTSA. And here's what she said. 

[00:32:21] Sam Fogg: A question was raised regarding the disproportionality of the impact, and isn't this what we would expect? Yes. We expect the students who are most marginalized and have the least power to be the most harmed. 

So I'm not surprised that, in my experience, isolation and restraint is not used on students in the same way. Students with different demographics, expressing the same behaviors are treated differently. 

I will not talk about individual cases, but rather patterns, in order to protect confidentiality. When I talk about something here, I'm talking about an n-size of at least 10. Typical calls that I get involve students who are young. Who are black. Who are bouncy. Who don't know all of the rules maybe. But they're not scary. But their teachers get scared of them. And then these children get hurt. 

They've experienced discrimination. In cases with disabled students, they've experienced ableism. Over and over and over again. And then they get hurt. And then they're punished for reacting to being hurt. And then it happens again. And trust is broken again. And again. And again, 

In our schools, the people who are required to be there by law are children. The people who carry the wounds from this, who live with this, who have life-long impacts from this are children. We are asking parents to knowingly send their children into spaces where they expect them to be harmed. We are compelling them to do this by law. 

We talk in this committee... We've been talking a lot about the acute moment of crisis. But we also need to talk about the impact every day. The harm every day that happens to these children. To these educators, who were put into the position of having to do things that they don't want to do. And to the fact that people think that they're doing the right thing, but are actually causing harm and they need to be supported through changing their practices. 

[00:34:27] Christie Robertson: Thank you for giving that attention. We need to stop this. The good news is that OSPI and others are still moving forward. They got a budget proviso through last year, and they are moving forward on trying to train teachers on ways to help kids function and learn rather than just controlling their dysregulated behaviors. 

They're going to have some pilot schools. They're going to take some volunteers for pilot schools and they're going to reach out to schools that have high numbers of restraint and isolation and do training, and help them bring their numbers down.

[00:35:07] Christie Robertson: So progress is being made. Despite Representative Paul Harris, who tells this story:

[00:35:12] Rep Paul Harris: Madam chair. You know, and I so appreciate what we're trying to do here today. I have two grandchildren who have experienced both of these. I have a granddaughter that's classroom has been evacuated six times now. And I don't think we know the trauma that caused to my granddaughter, to be quite frank. A room clear is not a good thing. It was, and it continues to be, a difficult experience for her. And it will be as long as we continue to clear rooms. So. 

I also have a grandson who is non-verbal. Who is 13. Who's been isolated many times. And actually should be. And it concerns me that we're going to take away... in many of these cases, that opportunity. He has serious problems. He will have those all of his life. He is with highly professional people. And very, very specific situations. Has the best people in the world taking care of him. But still, he needs isolation at times. And they want to mainstream him into school, which I find rather interesting. But my son knows better. 

This is not easy to do. And I'm just sorry. We're not there. 

[00:36:38] Christie Robertson: That was representative Paul Harris of Vancouver, Washington, voting no on 1479 in the Education committee in 2023. 

And I would be remiss if I didn't play this amazing moment from one of the work sessions this year. This is Karen Pillar, the Director of Policy and Advocacy at Team Child, which is a Legal Aid program for young people in Washington state. And she is being asked a question by representative Skyler Rude, who is from Walla Walla, District 16. 

[00:37:18] Rep Sharon Tomiko-Santos: There is a question. Representative Rude.

[00:37:21] Skyler Rude: Just a question for the previous speaker. I apologize, I can't recall her name. So you mentioned penal restraint. Disciplinary purpose is not a legal reason to be doing this. Do you feel like that's an important distinction to make? 

[00:37:40] Karen Pillar: If I'm understanding your question... Are you... Is the question, “It's okay to use these penal restraints when you're disciplining”? 

[00:37:49] Skyler Rude: We're not allowed to use isolation or restraint as a disciplinary measure. So we're not putting kids in an isolated situation as punishment. Or at least legally. Rather, isolating and restraining for the safety of themselves or others. So that kind of the comparison to, like, criminal justice system... Seems quite different. And I'm wondering if that's an important distinction to make. 

[00:38:14] Karen Pillar: I think that the ACLU report actually really reveals that the reason why this bill is coming forward - We are using isolation and restraint way more broadly than what is currently anticipated in the way the law is written. And “If you build it, they will come” is part of the mentality. 

Which is why I'm asking this legislature: LEAD! DIRECT! Tell people that these are not the tools! Either to discipline, OR to create safety. 

And I think what you heard from the work session, is that it does not create safety. And that's where the research is, really... you can rely on. I know that you've heard from people to say that you need isolate to stay safe, but the research doesn't support that. And it really supports that these tools create harm for everyone involved. 

I'm here on behalf of the students and their families. Those are the most. Most harmed in my opinion.

But the notion that it's okay to do it as long as we're doing it for safety and not for discipline is a distinction I think we've been unable to manifest under the law as it's currently written. And I think the report reveals that. And it is also... It's an older mentality we really have to move forward from.  


[00:39:28] Christie Robertson: Okay. Let's work on wrapping this up. There are a few bills that have to do with instruction and what we want our kids to learn. There's one about making sure there's financial education for all secondary students - 1915. And this is one of the things we're hearing from students that they want. There's also a bill and a companion about Holocaust education.

[00:39:52] Jane Tunks Demel: In terms of mental health, there's a bill about supporting students who are chronically absent - 2146, and it also has a companion bill.

[00:40:01] Christie Robertson: And then the final thing I'll mention today is gun safety, which is one of the top priorities for our student partners. 

I want to credit Chetan Soni, a really effective activist who is still a student. And is also really great at gathering lots of other students. and bringing them to inform those of us who are just guessing - all of us adults who care about, and think about, and have impact on education, but are not actually the people who are experiencing it. He has had a really big impact. He started off by running the Seattle Student Union. And he is now taking his efforts statewide with the Washington Youth Alliance. And we are working toward bringing him on the show. 

From him and other students, I've learned that gun control is one of the top concerns for students. And so even though it's not directly education, I want to bring up 1178, which allows a local jurisdiction to have stricter gun regulations than the state.

There's a lot of areas that we didn't get to today, but we hope to come back soon and talk about things like free school meals, opioid overdose protections. Also more gun bills and so many other interesting and important topics. As well as check back in on the ones that we talked about today.

[00:41:40] Jane Tunks Demel: That concludes this episode. Our show notes are available at, where you can subscribe or donate to support our podcast. 

[00:41:49] Christie Robertson: You can email us at at We definitely would like to hear feedback about this kind of episode. 

I'm Christie Robertson.

[00:41:58] Jane Tunks Demel: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel. We'll be back with more episodes soon, and we hope you'll join us next time on Seattle Hall Pass.​