What happens when a school district breaks its own rules?

What happens when our schools make promises they can’t keep? What happens when a school district breaks its own rules?

I’m not sure, but my oldest son came home from his first day of school last week with a yellow pamphlet entitled “The Basic Rules of Seattle Public Schools 2018-19.”

It’s an interesting read.

Listed very first, for example, are the “Student Rights” as laid out by Seattle Public Schools, none of which they can honestly promise to uphold for all students.

Student Rights.jpg

All well and good, except that the district can’t honestly promise any of those rights to any of its students of color. It can’t honestly promise them to any kids whose parents are considered low-income either. The district even knows this about itself, and it says as much.

Flip the brochure over, and SPS declares that “Eliminating opportunity gaps and ensuring educational excellence for each and every student is the issue of our time.”

Then Seattle Public Schools acknowledge their track record of disproportionate discipline along racial lines, and make a few suggestions toward starting to limit that long-standing form of racial discrimination. They describe themselves as “committed to ensuring equitable access, closing the opportunity gap, and excellence in education for every student.”


It’s a good step to acknowledge our shortcomings — better than to deny them altogether — but what we also have here is SPS telling us that they cannot guarantee our students’ basic rights without telling us what they’re going to do about it.

Back to the first page. Listed next, after Student Rights, are Student Responsibilities.

The first two student responsibilities are to advocate for themselves. The third responsibility is to treat staff and students with respect. The fourth is to “accept reasonable consequences when failing to meet behavioral expectations and use the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.”

The fifth, meanwhile, is a responsibility for students to “attend class regularly.”


There’s another section called “What Happens if a Student Breaks a Rule?” This begs a related question that the brochure never answers: What happens if the district breaks a rule?

What happens, in other words, if the district infringes on students’ rights?

There is no section for that.

It is a wonderful thing to be committed to closing opportunity gaps. In making that commitment, however, and in acknowledging those gaps, it’s going unsaid that the district will continue to provide inequitable opportunities to students until the district fully figures out how to do things differently.

They’re making sure to tell us how important attendance is, though. Evidently you have to send your child into their schools every single day to get the full effect.

According to this brochure, “Seattle Public Schools staff are committed to examining their own implicit bias, while working from a culturally trauma-responsive lens that utilizes verbal de-escalation skills in an effort to create conditions in our schools that allow students to be successful.”


And what will happen to those teachers who don’t fully confront their bias? What will happen when teachers fall short of that commitment — or, to use more punitive student-type language, what will happen to teachers when they break that rule?

There’s no section for that either.

BUT! We did get a phone call at our house last week, as well as a letter in the mail, as well as a mass email from our principal, reminding us how important it is for our son to attend school every day. Every single day.

We promise to treat some children unfairly, this brochure says. We promise to continue trying to figure out how to close opportunity gaps, this brochure says, and we promise they’ll persist through this school year and well into the future.

We promise to hold students accountable if they break rules. We promise to not hold ourselves accountable, even though we know in advance we will break our commitments.

We promise to continue to tell you how important it is for your children to be present in our buildings, even though we also promise to discriminate against many of them.

We promise to continue acknowledging the need for change.

Will this be the year that change actually starts to come?

We’ll see.