Colorado Bill Ends Zero Tolerance in Schools
Photo by Paul Sableman, Flick Creative Commons
On May 9, 2012 a piece titled, “Jovenes Unidos Win Landmark Discipline Reform” was posted on the group’s web site. It details a new law passed in Colorado which seems to do away with “zero tolerance” policy in schools – where children are summarily suspended or expelled for certain offenses.
Late Wednesday evening, the Colorado General Assembly passed Senate Bill 46 – the safe schools through smart discipline bill – as an amendment to the Colorado School Finance Act. The passage of SB 46 bill represents a landmark victory for the State of Colorado and Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, whose members have organized for over two years for a legislative solution to end zero-tolerance policies and racial disparities in school discipline practices.
The legislative campaign of Senate Bill 46 builds on the decade-long effort by Padres & Jóvenes Unidos to End the School-to-Jail Track, a campaign that aims to stop the criminalization and push-out of youth of color in school; to increase academic achievement by keeping students in school and learning; and to decrease the overrepresentation of Blacks and Latinos in the United States’ prison-system. …
“After working on this smarter discipline bill for two years, I’m thrilled that legislators voted yes to keep kids in school and learning,” said Tori Ortiz, a leader of Jóvenes Unidos and student at North High School. “Up to 10,000 kids a year will stay in school and out of the juvenile justice system for minor misbehavior due to our efforts – a win for students and for schools.”
Once signed by the governor, the bill will accomplish the following:
1) Give schools discretion over suspensions and eliminate mandatory expulsion (with exception of firearms). Establish graduated discipline systems where the punishment matches the level of the offense, and give communities fairer, more just discipline standards to hold their school districts to.
2) Streamline reporting and data collection of school discipline practices disaggregated by race and other factors, offering new data on how and why kids are disciplined in schools.
3) Enhance the training program for school resource officers so they are better equipped to work with school administrators and reduce the number of kids going to court.
4) Send a clear message to schools to reduce referrals to law enforcement.
Among the options recommended explicitly in the law is “restorative justice.” Dayna Scott, who works for the Colorado Restorative Justice Council, has told me that several members of the Council testified in the Statehouse on behalf of the bill, including Beverly Title and Deb Witzel. Title also reported to her that she’s already had a few calls from schools interested in learning more about restorative justice.
I also noticed this piece from the LA Times, “Colorado is latest to reconsider zero-tolerance school policies” reporting on the law and the problem it addresses:
On May 2, D’Avonte Meadows, a 6-year-old with an infectious grin and rambunctious streak, was suspended for three days from Sable Elementary in suburban Denver for crooning “[I'm] Sexy and I Know It” to a girl in lunch line.
The school declared it sexual harassment and told his parents that, because D’Avonte sang the same song to the same girl before, he is a repeat offender. The news media pounced. And Stephanie Meadows, D’Avonte’s 29-year-old mother, gave her bewildered son, a special needs student, a crash course in birds, bees and sexual boundaries.
The Aurora Public Schools initially stood firm with its finding of sexual harassment. Officials recently offered to remove the word “sexual” and instead consider D’Avonte a harasser. His parents rejected the offer.
“I’m not excusing my son’s behavior,” his mother insists. But this is a discipline issue, she says, not a sexual one: “He doesn’t even know what it means. Where’s the common sense?”
That question is being asked across the nation and a few miles away in the Colorado Statehouse. One week after D’Avonte was suspended, Colorado lawmakers passed a bill easing disciplinary policies in schools.
Colorado joins a growing number of states rethinking zero-tolerance policies requiring expulsion or suspension for behavior or actions that might once have meant a stern talking to or a visit to the principal’s office. Now lawmakers want to give educators flexibility.
In California the Legislature is considering nine bills aimed at limiting school discipline. One would require schools that suspend more than 25% of their students to adopt strategies aimed at reducing behavior that leads to suspension.