New school aims to keep suspended, expelled students on track

Mukilteo creates program in response to 2016 passage of Opportunity Gap Bill
By Nicholas Johnson | Feb 15, 2017

A new school for Mukilteo students who have been expelled or suspended for more than 10 days aims to keep them on track to graduate while also connecting them with social services.

Districts across the state have been working to expand services since state lawmakers passed a bill in 2016 that requires they provide educational services to middle and high school students who have been suspended or expelled.

The Mukilteo School District opened the Opportunity Day School on Monday, Feb. 13. Dixie Grunenfelder, Director of Secondary Education in the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, said the “innovative” school is likely one of the first of its kind.

“Any time we can keep students engaged in attending school, even if it is a temporary setting, it is a positive thing,” she said. “I am happy to see Mukilteo thinking about options that will best meet the needs of their students. In this school, students will get more than just academic instruction, but also the social supports that are so critical for their future success.”

The school, which is based at the Boys and Girls Club on Casino Road in Everett, is staffed with a teacher and a part-time paraeducator. It offers online credit retrieval programs, homework completion, high school and beyond planning, state assessment testing and more in order to keep students on track academically.

“Prior to the Opportunity Gap Bill, schools weren’t required to provide these kinds of services,” Beth Vanderveen, Mukilteo’s Director of Student Services and Athletics, said. “Some chose to, but it wasn’t part of the law. We are now required to provide services to these kids.”

The program will cost roughly $150,000 per year, with an additional $15,000 for start-up costs such as purchasing computers and installing wireless Internet.

The school, which is expected to serve an average of five students at any given time, offers a morning and afternoon session, and attendance is voluntary.

“We’re looking at each kid on a case-by-case basis to determine the best way we can serve them to meet their needs so they can continue to grow and graduate,” Vanderveen said.

Deputy Superintendent Alison Brynelson said the district hopes it won’t need to lean too heavily on the new program.

“We want the ratio to be very low so kids get the social-emotional support they need to get back into the regular school system,” she said.

After their suspension or expulsion, students may also continue at the district’s ACES alternative high school or the Sno-Isle Tech Skills Center, Vanderveen said.

The district is still looking to hire for the paraeducator position, Brynelson said.

“We want someone with a college degree and a social-worker background to work with kids on the causes of their behavior and link them to support resources,” Vanderveen said.

The goal is to develop relationships and rapport with students in order to identify barriers that hinder them in making progress in school, Vanderveen said. Students and their families will also be connected with school and community resources, such as mental health counseling and drug and alcohol programs, she said.

“The benefits will be great because the paraeducator will be specialized and able to work with students on their social-emotional skills,” Brynelson said.

Some 665 students in the district were disciplined last school year, accounting for 3.6 percent of the student population, according to state data. The highest rate of discipline statewide last year was 11.6 percent in the Goldendale School District. Among districts in Snohomish County, more than 4,000 students were disciplined last year.

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