The substitute version of House Bill 2834 would have required school boards to have policies in place by Sept. 1, 2011, that prohibit criminal street gang activity on school property and vehicles, and at officially sanctioned school activities. Through the bill, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Washington State School Directors Association would have worked to draft a model policy and procedure by Jan. 1, 2011. It would also have authorized OSPI to adopt rules on disciplining students on gang-related behavior.
The proposal would have mainly amended the existing state law on gangs in schools. It would have added new sections to the laws designed to handle offenses relating to school property and personnel.
"It is the intent of the Legislature that all schools will have consistent policies and procedures to address gangs and any associated conduct and behavior," the bill states.
The bill would have asked districts to set parameters to determine what defines a member or associate of a criminal street gang. Discipline, however, would have been reserved for cases when suspected gang members or associates knowingly violate school policies and rules. Students still could not be disciplined for simply belonging to a gang.
The bill detailed much of what is already happening in local schools. Most area schools already have protocol for handling gang-related offenses. The proposed law would have gone further by requiring the procedures be outlined and written into school board policies.
House Bill 2835 would have designated school properties and surrounding areas as "school safety zones." It would have included in the definition of disorderly conduct the intentional disruption of any school operation or school activity without lawful authority.
A "school safety zone" was defined in the bill as all areas within a 1,000-foot radius of any public school facility, while the facility is in use by students or staff, and all district properties at all times.
The bill would have allowed school officials to seek "exclusion orders" for people who are known or suspected of being within the school safety zone and disrupting learning or posing a threat to students, staff or property.
It would have essentially granted districts the right to keep people suspected of criminal activities off school grounds and more than 1,000 feet from the property.
Someone suspected of tagging school property with gang graffiti, for example, could be excluded verbally for up to 24 hours, or summonsed to remain away with a formal order for up to 90 days. The "safety zone" around schools and properties would not include private property.
Both bills were born after a lengthy study by a special task force of OSPI. Following close to three years of work, the Gangs in Schools Task Force presented its report to the Legislature in December 2009 and made recommendations that eventually produced HB 2834 and HB 2835.
The task force went further by requesting districts and communities receive grants to fund prevention models to deter youths from joining gangs. There was also concern and a request to explore alternatives for the educational needs of youths who have been suspended or expelled from state schools.
Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8317. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/schoolhousemissives. HB 2834 - Relating to Gang and Hate Group Activity at School