Teacher contract talks in biggest Kansas district stuck over ability to boot unruly kids from class
Attorneys representing the Wichita district say kicking kids out of class for even a few hours could violate federal special-education guidelines aimed at protecting special-needs students.
The Wichita school district wants to limit teachers’ ability to remove disruptive students from classrooms, saying the practice could run afoul of federal special-education guidelines.
Wichita’s current teacher contract allows teachers to send a student to the principal’s office for up to a half-day if the student is “substantially disrupting the instructional program to the detriment of other pupils.”
Attorneys representing the school district want to do away with that provision or give school administrators the authority to overrule a teacher’s call. They say kicking kids out of class for even a few hours could violate federal special-education guidelines aimed at protecting special-needs students.
“The right could be exercised in a way that might give rise to problems,” said Dan Lawrence, general counsel for the Wichita district and head of the district’s negotiating team. “These ejectments of pupils … are actually, legally suspensions, so that has various implications under federal law.”
The issue has been a sticking point during negotiations over next year’s teacher contract, which begins Aug. 1. Representatives from the district and the local teachers’ union met Thursday but did not reach an agreement.
Katie Warren, president of United Teachers of Wichita, opposes the change. She said one unruly student can affect an entire classroom — particularly if the student hurls threats or acts violently — and teachers need the ability to separate them when necessary.
“We want to make sure that, before a student comes back into the learning environment, that they are regulated and that they’re ready to learn,” Warren said. “We have to think about the rights of all the other students, as well.”
Kansas educators say student behavior has gotten worse since the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers’ unions have called for consistency and a tougher approach to misbehaving students, including the right to remove disruptive students from class.
Lawrence, the district’s attorney, said special-education students have more protections when facing discipline at school. The federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act ensures that students with disabilities receive the services outlined in their education plans, and that they are not disciplined due to their disability.
“The requirements that apply to the removal of a gen-ed student are going to be different than the requirements that need to be observed when we’re talking about removal of a student with an IEP (individualized education plan),” Lawrence said. “We’ve got to make sure that when these removals take place, we’re … in full compliance.”
The Wichita district began teacher contract negotiations in March.
The union is asking for an 8% raise for Wichita teachers, higher starting salaries, more planning time, and two fewer professional-development days on the annual calendar.
The district’s most recent offer calls for a 3.5% across-the-board raise, along with compensation for additional experience and education, bringing the total to a 5.3% increase.