Two locals to the Bingen-White Salmon area recently testified during the ongoing legislative session in Olympia in support of a bill aimed at reforming school and school district action plans.
Gabrielle Gilbert, an outspoken proponent of positive social cultural reform in public schools, and Katrina Bretsch, who works as an educator for the People For People learning center, spoke in favor of House Bill 2816 last Monday in front of the House Education Committee upon invitation from Rep. Chris Corry (R-Yakima), the bill’s primary sponsor.
“It was pretty empowering… this passion is in our guts,” Bretsch said following the hearing.
H.B. 2816 – “Nurturing positive social and emotional school and classroom climates” – would require the Washington State School Directors’ Association to develop model policy and procedures that implements training informed by best practices listed in the bill, such as restorative, collaborative and proactive practices, trauma-sensitive and trauma-informed practices and classroom management practices, among others, according to a first draft of the bill. The bill would also require the agency to examine the relationship between the model policy and policy related to discipline and student behaviors.
The proposed piece of legislation would also require WSSDA to consult with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and officials within school districts who have expertise in the area to develop the model policy. The bill would also require school districts to follow suit and implement policy consistent with the WSSDA model policy.
A proposed amendment to the bill would open the consultation stage of the policy to open the conversation up to more stakeholders as opposed to WSSDA consulting with only OSPI and other experts within school districts on this matter.
Late last year, Gilbert championed a local version of the bill with Bretsch, an ally who drafted the language, lobbying the White Salmon Valley School board to pass through the bill in the beginning of the school year since five years prior.
After the committee hearing last Monday, Gilbert told The Enterprise that she is more determined than ever.
“I went up for five years in front of the school board, I’ll come in front of Olympia for five years,” Gilbert said.
Corry made a quick statement at the committee hearing before the witnesses spoke, saying it’s a “good bill; vote yes.” Shortly thereafter he deferred to the witnesses testifying, saying “they’re the real experts.”
Bretsch spoke first, according to video accessed through TVW Web Services, and argued that: “one of the things about this bill that I think is so vital and so important is that we have students that have extreme trauma, that come from poverty, that come from different areas [where] they have been marginalized in the school districts...They feel it and they say it out loud to me,” Bretsch said.
Bretsch also provided handouts to committee members which addresses best practices and how they correspond with the goals of the legislation.
Gilbert spoke next, introducing herself as “that parent,” the archetype of a persistent parent who speaks up at board meetings.
“I come to you to ask all of you on the education committee… for a unanimous vote because I believe each one of you have in your constituency, who you represent, a child like my son and a family as my family,” Gilbert said.
She told the committee the story of her son, how he was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) and how she perceived an injustice in the school’s treatment of her son through their discipline and classroom behaviors policy.
Gilbert said officials would tell her to “let the professionals handle it,” but she argued that teachers and school officials can be ignorant of the needs a child with a processing disorder, such as ADHD. She recounted a confrontation from years ago when her son confronted her about school.
“My son came to me at twelve years of age and said: ’Mom, I hate school. Mom, it doesn’t matter what I do, I always get in trouble, and mom, I want to kill myself,’” Gilbert recalled. “You cannot prepare for that,” she added.
“You cannot discipline a child who has a processing disorder into the right result,” Gilbert said. Gilbert argued it’s a generational story of bias. Bias, she asserted, created a climate of discrimination “using the mythology of classroom management and discipline policies.”
“I am asking that we become a model state for the nation, that we will literally change the way that the paradigm needs to shift so that children can now be honored and dignified with their experience and their equity of education that is due to them,” Gilbert said.
Along with Gilbert and Bretsch, Charlotte Cassady, president of Attorneys for Educational Rights, also spoke to the bill and suggested amendments.
“We believe a safe, supportive positive school climate is the foundation of everything else that schools do. A student who is frightened or anxious in the school environment is not available for learning. It does not matter what curriculum is used or how qualified teachers are if a positive learning climate does not make students available for learning,” Cassady said.
Cassady argued for amendments to be included within the bill that address space for families, teachers and students to have input with the creation of the model policy.
After Cassady spoke, the committee moved to adjourn the session. A vote whether to approve the bill past committee had not transpired during the first hearing.
An executive session has been scheduled for Feb. 6, when H.B. 2816 will be presented for discussion among others sent to the House Education Committee.