Illustration by Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times: Blue, white and black drawing of students walking away from a bus and a man with a clipboard in the foreground.

Accountability and Inclusion

Since the original publication of this blog post, TeamChild’s Director of Policy & Advocacy, Karen Pillar, joined with other Special Education attorneys for this related December 22, 2023 Op-Ed in The Seattle Times: OSPI has failed WA’s most vulnerable students.


TeamChild attorneys tackle two major issues for clients every day:  accountability and inclusion.  As attorneys for youth, we are often using our legal skills to hold government agencies, systems, adults, and service providers accountable for the way they show up and serve our clients.  Access to lawyers can be vital to a young person who is not getting what they need. Part of our vision for young people is that they experience unconditional belonging at school, at home and in their communities. Our attorneys seek inclusion for the youth they represent.  Inclusion in school, instead of being suspended or expelled.  Inclusion in their family or home, instead of being kicked out or disconnected.  Inclusion in community, instead of incarceration.  When systems are held accountable to fulfill their mandates and missions, there is greater possibility for youth to be included.

A true failure of accountability and inclusion at a statewide level is highlighted in last month’s reporting from The Seattle Times and ProPublica about the Northwest School of Innovative Learning (NW SOIL). Students from dozens of school districts were sent to this nonpublic agency to receive specialized educational services paid for by state dollars.  The local school districts often failed to hold this school accountable when the student was not properly served by NWSOIL. But the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), which had access to information about all the problems seen across all the school districts at a macro level, also failed year after year to hold NWSOIL accountable. Instead, OSPI approved the certification and licensing for these schools year after year.  As we are about to enter the 2023 legislative session, I am left wondering:  Who will hold OSPI accountable for such a complete failure?  Who will hold NWSOIL accountable? This is a private company that made millions of dollars off of the students and school districts they failed to serve.

But more importantly, I am thinking about inclusion.  NWSOIL is an isolating place.  Students are sent there from miles away, far from their friends, their homes, and their school communities. They often take taxis or buses for over an hour each way to get to these schools. When they are home in the evenings and on weekends, they cannot easily hang out with their classmates, get together outside of school for social reasons, or stay late to get help with an assignment.  School districts make decisions to place students in nonpublic agencies based on the students’ needs and behaviors, which should instead be supported or accommodated in our communities.  We as a community allow systems to separate people from “us” when we could be working to build the communities that can include them.   

TeamChild’s policy priorities continue to focus on ways to build inclusive, supportive, and connecting systems and communities that can meet our clients’ needs side by side with other youth. Policy changes are needed. But we also need to change our thinking and our framing about how to design schools, communities, and services that are truly accessible and available to all. 

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