After more than three months of debates and delays, the Hawaii Board of Education approved a Student Climate and Discipline policy Tuesday to guide schools in their use of Chapter 19 — state administrative rules governing school discipline issues.

The new policy calls for schools to create a positive environment, where all members of the campus community are “welcomed, supported, and feel safe in school.”

Many specifics for how schools should create that environment however, including a mandate for all schools to create school climate goals, were pulled from the policy after complaints from principals that the proposal tied their hands and that they had not been properly consulted.

The final version also removed language that called for principals to issue out-of-school suspensions only as a last resort.

Queen Liliuokalani Building. Board of Education offices. 16 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Board of Education offices.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

It was a change that frustrated some education and juvenile justice advocates who supported the policy but wanted a greater emphasis on reducing school suspensions.

“We are a little disappointed that the language was removed,” said Hui for Excellence in Education Director Cheri Nakamura, who nevertheless spoke in support of the policy. “However, we can understand why it was taken out given the sensitivity of administrators.”

A section on the role of law enforcement on school campuses was also pulled, but may become part of another board policy that the BOE expects to revisit next month.

Under the policy as passed, schools will be required to create school climate goals when school data indicates “significant concerns regarding school climate and discipline.”

Hawaii Appleseed Public Policy Director Jenny Lee expressed concern that the document did not provide sufficient guidance as to what would qualify as “significant concerns.”

Principals and complex area superintendents examine student discipline data while creating annual academic plans, said DOE Assistant Superintendent Suzanne Mulcahy, and would catch concerns at that point.

Last year Hawaii suspended less than 4 percent of its students — well below the national average, but there were big disparities in suspension rates among ethnic groups and various schools.

The DOE is scheduled to come back to the board within 90 days with an implementation plan for the new policy.

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