The school district wants to find new ways of handling misbehavior, which they say students have struggled with since returning to the classro…
An internal review of the Kelso School District found certain students get pulled from class at higher rates than others, prompting officials to look for ways besides expulsion to address ongoing behavior problems.
Director of Student Services Gunnar Guttormsen told the school board Monday the district has expelled, suspended or removed its students from class at a rate of 8.3% or 407 students so far this school year — the highest the district has seen since before 2014. Data for each school was not yet available.
Discipline rates in Kelso on average hovered around 5.9% in the six years before the pandemic. The average discipline rate in Washington state for the last eight years has lingered around 3.5%. Starting in the 2021-22 school year, documents show, these numbers started to rise.
Statistics show students who are Black, American Indian/Alaskan Native, multiracial, in foster care or receiving special education services experience “exclusionary discipline” at a disproportionately high rate to their counterparts. Exclusion means the child is pulled out of class, expelled or slapped with short- or long-term suspension.
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“What we’re tasked with is being able to answer why that’s happening,” Guttormsen said. “What mental health or additional supports do we need to help them? Because what we have is not helping them or working for them.”
The main reason Kelso students have been chastised are “behaviors resulting in intervention,” a term not specifically defined in the documents. Other reasons students got removed from class included violence without major injury, failure to cooperate, using illegal substances on campus and general disruption.
While district officials have expressed concern about rising behavior issues since the return to in-person learning, Guttormsen said they want to find alternatives to expulsion. Sometimes expulsion needs to happen, he said, but they also want students to keep learning.
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Of the 23 foster care students in the district, 26.1% or six faced exclusionary discipline despite making up less than 0.1% of the district population. This marks a roughly 10% increase between last school year and the midpoint of this school year.
“The total numbers (of foster care students) are low, so it doesn’t take very many to make that number go up,” Guttormsen said. “Also, we know that situationally these kids probably have the most disruptive situation in most cases. Proportionately, they would struggle with engaging in or even maintaining school.”
Kelso School District officials, like in Longview, have requested removing or raising the state's limit on special education funding.
The district uses this exclusionary discipline on 12.9% of special education and 11.6% of McKinney-Vento students. The McKinney-Vento Act refers to a federal program that gives school districts money to help students who are homeless or face unstable housing.
Broken down by grade level, eighth and ninth graders have the highest rates of discipline. With 17.9%, it’s highest among eighth grade students. Discipline of ninth graders increased the most of all grades since last year, jumping from 8.5% in 2021-22 to 15% as of February.
Male students also experience higher rates of discipline than female or nonbinary students, with 10.27% of male students disciplined as compared to 4.52% of female and 6.67% of nonbinary students.
The discipline rates of high schoolers tend to drop as students get older and mature, Guttormsen noted.
When broken into racial demographics, school documents show a disproportionate number of multiracial, Black and American Indian/Alaskan Native students experience removal, suspension or expulsion.
Black students are punished at a rate of 15.2% despite being less than 1% of the student population.
American Indian/Alaskan Native students are 1.3% of the district population but face discipline at a rate of 9.2% — a jump from 2.9% the year before. Students who are from more than one racial background get disciplined at a 9.9% rate but make up 6.2% of the district.
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School teachers across the U.S. discipline Black and brown students more often and more harshly than their white peers, according to a 2019 study from Brown and Princeton universities.
This was noticed by researchers as early as preschool, and it can lead to lower grades and more misbehavior in later years, according to a 2021 analysis from the American Psychological Association. Socioeconomic factors like poverty or unstable home lives can lead to misbehavior, the study says.
These issues disproportionately affect Black and brown students across the country because systemic racism historically barred access to services, according to 2021 research from the National Library of Medicine.
Guttormsen said they want to address these disparities through district culture and climate surveys, reviewing discipline data and implementing new procedures. Exclusion has an effect on whether a student cares about school and their later success, he said.
He said students who have teachers they can confide in help identify issues before major behavioral shifts.
Increasing attendance could also help by making students feel more comfortable and connected to their classrooms.
“We always go back to school conduct standards,” Guttormsen said. “What do we have as an option for discipline? Have we dealt with this? Are we trained in this or is this a new type of situation? That’s oftentimes how we determine threat assessments.”
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to clarify that 26.1% of foster care students faced exclusionary discipline. The article has also been updated to show that 407 students were excluded.
Sydney Brown is a news reporter for The Daily News covering education and environmental issues in Cowlitz County.
The Industrial Way and Oregon Way intersection rebuild has seen another cost increase as it seeks funding from the state Legislature.
The Washington Department of Transportation placed the estimated cost of the project at $230 million after doing the required cost validation checking in December and January. Department officials told the Daily News this will be the official number used to continue planning the project in the near future.
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The estimate is an increase from estimates given as recently as September, when the department gave an estimate of roughly $180 million to local leaders. It is roughly triple the original expected cost for the redesign of the intersection, which a 2015 study commissioned by Cowlitz County gave a high-end estimate of $85 million.
“While it’s a significant change in the figure, with the conversations we’ve had locally, this remains the most cost effective way to address the transportation needs of the local economy into the future,” WSDOT regional director Carley Francis said.
The Industrial Way and Oregon Way project has been in the works for years to separate the rail traffic near the Port of Longview from the area’s residential and industrial drivers. The proposed design will elevate the street intersection above the train lines and build a secondary road loop for trucks entering the port or the paper mill complex.
Recent inflation, new road designs and cost contingencies have doubled the original cost for the Industrial Way/ Oregon Way intersection redesign.
The cost estimate validation process is a Department of Transportation requirement for any project that costs more than $100 million. Francis said it was a more extensive and detailed estimate than the version presented in September, including a larger group of WSDOT employees and outside consultants to look at the different cost factors.
“We look at each line of that estimate and each material and activity to understand what could go wrong here, what is the cost and time delay for that, and how likely it is,” WSDOT Regional Administrator Devin Reck said.
The increase was based on long-term economic uncertainty, along with the risks of limited materials causing delays that drag out the project timeline. Several recent state transportation projects were awarded bids 50% above the original estimate. Reck said the process also highlighted changes that could lower the cost, such as additional soil sampling and alternate materials.
A new design for the Industrial Way and Oregon Way intersection includes a roundabout and received early approval from Longview leaders this week.
The new price tag for the intersection is around the same cost as the intersection project at state Route 18 and I-90 outside Snoqualmie which is currently underway.
Officials report $98 million has already been allocated by the state Legislature since 2015 for the Industrial Way project. The Department of Transportation is asking for the full difference of nearly $130 million to be allocated by the Legislature this year as part of the state transportation budget. Washington’s transportation budget will be negotiated over the next six weeks.
Francis said the department is looking for funding outside of the state government as well. The department applied for a $43 million grant from the Federal Rail Administration for projects that eliminate railroad crossings. The administration will announce which projects are partially or fully funded sometime this spring.
The current design was the consensus outcome from a series of meetings last year between Cowlitz County governments, businesses and the Department of Transportation to find an approach that would reinvigorate the intersection project.
WASHINGTON — Active-service members and veterans provided firsthand testimony Wednesday about the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, describing in harrowing detail the carnage and death they witnessed on the ground while imploring Congress to help the allies left behind.
Former Marine Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews testified to Congress about the stench of human flesh under a large plume of smoke as the screams of children, women and men filled the space around Kabul’s airport after two suicide bombers attacked.
“I see the faces of all of those we could not save, those we left behind,” said Vargas-Andrews, who wore a prosthetic arm and scars of his own grave wounds from the bombing. “The withdrawal was a catastrophe in my opinion. And there was an inexcusable lack of accountability.”
The first of what is expected to be a series of Republican-led hearings examining the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal displayed the open wounds from the end of America’s longest war in August 2021, with witnesses recalling how they saw mothers carrying dead babies and the Taliban shooting and beating people.
Taliban forces seized the Afghan capital, Kabul, far more rapidly than U.S. intelligence had foreseen. Kabul’s fall turned the withdrawal into a rout, with Kabul’s airport the center of a desperate air evacuation guarded by U.S. forces deployed for the task.
The majority of witnesses argued to Congress that the fall of Kabul was an American failure with blame touching every presidential administration from George W. Bush to Joe Biden. Testimony focused not on the decision to withdraw, but on what witnesses depicted as a desperate attempt to rescue American citizens and Afghan allies with little U.S. planning and inadequate U.S. support.
“America is building a nasty reputation for multigenerational systemic abandonment of our allies where we leave a smoldering human refuse from the Montagnards of Vietnam to the Kurds in Syria,” retired Lt. Col. Scott Mann testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
He added, “Our veterans know something else that this committee might do well to consider: We might be done with Afghanistan, but it’s not done with us.”
Vargas-Andrews sobbed as he told lawmakers of being thwarted in an attempt to stop the single deadliest moment in the U.S. evacuation: the suicide bombing that killed 170 Afghans and 13 U.S. servicemen and women.
He said Marines and others aiding in the evacuation operation were given descriptions of men believed to be plotting an attack before it occurred. He said he and others spotted two men matching the descriptions and behaving suspiciously, and had them in their rifle scopes but never received a response about whether to take action.
“No one was held accountable,” Vargas-Andrews told Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the committee. “No one was, and no one is, to this day.”
U.S. Central Command’s investigation concluded in October 2021 that given the worsening security situation at Abbey Gate as Afghans became increasingly desperate to flee, “the attack was not preventable at the tactical level without degrading the mission to maximize the number of evacuees.” However, that investigation did not look into whether the bomber could have been stopped or whether Marines on the ground had the appropriate authority to engage.
McCaul is deeply critical of the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal. “What happened in Afghanistan was a systemic breakdown of the federal government at every level, and a stunning failure of leadership by the Biden administration,” he said.
Last month, U.S. Inspector-General for Afghanistan John Sopko concluded again that actions taken by both the Trump and Biden administrations were key to the sudden collapse of the Afghan government and military, even before U.S. forces completed their withdrawal in August 2021.
That includes President Donald Trump’s withdrawal deal with the Taliban, and the abruptness of Biden’s withdrawal U.S. contractors and troops.
The report blamed each U.S. administration since American forces invaded in 2001 for inconsistent policies and a failure to build a capable, sustainable Afghan military.
The witnesses testifying Wednesday urged action to help the hundreds of thousands of Afghan allies who worked alongside U.S. soldiers and who are now in limbo in the U.S. and back in Afghanistan.
“If I leave this committee with only one thought it’s this: It’s not too late,” said Peter Lucier, a Marine veteran who now works at Team America Relief, which has assisted thousands of Afghans in relocating. “We’re going to talk a lot today about all the mistakes that were made, leading up to that day, but urgent action right now will save so many lives.”
One of those solutions discussed Wednesday would be creating a pathway to citizenship for the nearly 76,000 Afghans who worked with American soldiers since 2001 as translators, interpreters and partners. The government admitted the refugees on a temporary parole status as part of Operation Allies Welcome with the promise of a path to a life in the U.S.
But that effort stalled in the Senate late last year due to opposition from Republicans.
Here's a look at the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, by the numbers:
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The U.S. Justice Department found Louisville police have engaged in a pattern of violating constitutional rights and discrimination against the Black community following an investigation prompted by the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor.
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the findings Wednesday, the same day the Justice Department announced it will review the Memphis Police Department policies on the use of force, de-escalation strategies and specialized units in response to the police beating death of Tyre Nichols. The 29-year-old motorist died Jan. 10, three days after his violent arrest.
The Memphis review was requested by the city’s mayor and police chief, the Justice Department said; the agency already opened a civil rights probe of Nichols’ death.
Meanwhile, a judge ordered that the release of video and other information in the Nichols case, initially set for Wednesday, must be delayed so lawyers can review it.
The Justice Department also said it will examine the use of specialized units around the country and produce a guide for police chiefs and mayors on their use.
The Justice Department found that the Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government and Louisville Metro Police Department “engage in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives people of their rights under the Constitution and federal law.”
The report said the Louisville police department “discriminates against Black people in its enforcement activities,” uses excessive force and conducts searches based on invalid warrants. It also said the department violates the rights of people engaged in protected speech, such as the street protests in the summer of 2020 after Taylor’s death. Garland said some officers assaulted people with disabilities and called Black people disparaging names.
“This conduct is unacceptable, it is heartbreaking,” Garland said. “It erodes the community trust necessary for effective policing and it is an affront to the vast majority of officers who put their lives on the line every day to serve Louisville with honor.”
The sweeping probe announced in April 2021 is known as a “pattern or practice” investigation — examining whether there is a pattern of unconstitutional or unlawful policing inside the department. The city will sign a negotiated agreement with the Justice Department and a federal officer will monitor the progress.
Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, said Wednesday that she remains upset it took so long to feel some vindication. “It’s heartbreaking to know that everything you’ve been saying from day one has to be said again,” she said.
One of Palmer’s attorneys, Lonita Baker, said she was encouraged by the Justice Department’s findings but it’s “unfortunate that it took the murder of Breonna Taylor and protest after protest after protest through 2020 to come to this point.”
Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg said the city “has wounds that are not yet healed.”
“We have to come to terms with where we’ve been, so we can get to where we want to be,” Greenberg said.
Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was roused from her bed by police who came through the door using a battering ram after midnight on March 13, 2020. Three officers fired shots after Taylor’s boyfriend, fearing an intruder, shot an officer in the leg. Taylor was was shot several times and died at the scene.
The no-knock drug warrant used to enter her home is now part of a separate federal criminal investigation, and one former Louisville officer pleaded guilty to helping falsify information on the warrant. No drugs were found in Taylor’s home. Two more officers are charged in the warrant probe, and a third, Brett Hankison, is charged with endangering Taylor and her neighbors with his shots into her apartment.
The Justice Department’s report on Louisville police said Black motorists were more likely to be searched during traffic stops, and officers used neck restraints, police dogs and Tasers against people who posed no imminent threat. Garland cited one incident where two officers threw drinks at pedestrians and recorded the encounters in 2018 and 2019. Both officers face federal charges.
NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson applauded the findings. “While Congress continues to fail our country with police reform, at least the Department of Justice is taking their jobs seriously. Today marks a meaningful step toward police accountability and — should Congress now decide to step up — police reform,” Johnson’s statement said.
He added that the group lauded Garland and the Justice Department for continuing a “pursuit of justice” and added, “Congress should take a page from their book, do their jobs, and pass the legislation necessary to save innocent lives.”
Louisville settled a number of lawsuits related to Taylor’s death, including a $12 million payment to her family that ended a wrongful death lawsuit.
Garland mentioned some reforms the city adopted, including a law banning the use of “no-knock” warrants in 2020. The city also started a pilot program to send behavioral health professionals to some 911 calls, expanded community violence prevention efforts and sought to support health and wellness for officers, the report said.
On the one year anniversary of her death, Breonna Taylor 's family will gather to honor her legacy and continue their demand for justice. Here…