Colorado Task Force to Reassess School Discipline
New Colorado measure forms a task force to study current zero-tolerance school discipline policies, the use of legal sanctions for students, and how schools interact with the juvenile justice system.
ARVADA, CO (Colorado News Agency) May 24, 2011 -- Gov. John Hickenlooper paid a visit to a suburban high school gymnasium this week to sign into law a measure that seeks to get a leg up on school discipline statewide. The bill signing at Arvada High School in the Jefferson County School District represents the third out of five measures crossing his desk that ask lawmakers to study an issue before proposed policy changes are made.
Senate Bill 133, sponsored by Sens. Evie Hudak, D-Arvada, and Linda Newell, D-Littleton, and Rep. B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland, forms a task force to study current “zero-tolerance” school discipline policies, the use of legal sanctions for students, and how schools interact with the juvenile justice system. After the task force, consisting of lawmakers as well as experts in school discipline, finishes its work, it will report its findings in November to the legislature with recommendations for proposed policy changes. There will be at least four public meetings held before the Nov. 15 deadline.
Hickenlooper said too many students who get into trouble on campus are being thrown into the juvenile justice system too soon without other recourse. Back when he was a school kid, said the governor, students first were taken to the principal’s office and parents called. The pending study will look into alternatives to the justice system, said Hickenlooper.
“Senate Bill 133 is about helping Colorado get smart about school discipline, and to make sure that we’re not just being tough–but that we’re being wise,” said Hickenlooper.
Newell said that the zero-tolerance policies are a “post-Columbine” outcome that has produced some “unintended consequences.”
“We need to look at discipline options so that kids don’t end up being criminalized in their own schools,” said Newell.
Burdening kids with a police record is not necessarily good policy, says Nikkel, when it comes to behavior in schools that merits discipline but does not rise to the level of criminal behavior.
“We need to step back a little bit and look at these policies,” said Nikkel. “The premise here is that our kids are our most precious and valued natural resource, so we need to do everything we can to make them successful.”
Two of the five studies commissioned by lawmakers already have been signed by Hickenlooper, one looking at school bullies and another focusing on fetal-alcohol syndrome disorders. The remaining two are still on his desk: goals for higher education, Senate bill 52, and higher education educator preparation, Senate Bill 245.