Colorado Students Win State Law Reforms of Student Discipline Code

Last Updated: May 30, 2012

This article appeared in the May 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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Across the country community groups and others concerned about young people have begun to push back against the growing trend for schools to use severe and punitive discipline in response to non-violent student misbehavior. Many rural community residents have identified school discipline practices, especially harsh punishments that push students out of school, as a major concern. This series highlights some of the issues in the national conversation about school discipline.

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A primarily youth-led organization in Colorado has won a significant victory in the fight to end the school-to-prison pipeline in the Centennial State. The "Fair Discipline in Schools Act" was passed in the final hours of the legislative session as an amendment to the Colorado School Finance Act, and was signed into law earlier this month.

Padres and Jovenes Unidos (Parents and Youth United) of Denver has been working on school discipline issues on the local and state level for over seven years. Their legislative success is the culmination of a two-year project which began with convenings of youth from rural, suburban, and urban school districts to discuss how the discipline code affected them. (Editor’s note: See previous RPM coverage here.)

The law provides greater discretion for schools to determine appropriate consequences, and to utilize alternative approaches to exclusion from school such as Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports and restorative justice practices. It also eliminates all mandatory expulsions except for firearms cases and provides guidelines for training for law enforcement officers working in schools, and for clearer reporting of discipline data.

Colorado has been marked by very high school discipline rates and during the past ten years, over 100,000 students were referred to law enforcement. A recent report on the state’s discipline practices by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) which closely examined data from the last two years confirmed high use of out-of-school suspensions, that higher rates of students of color were receiving harsh punishments, and that minor behavior problems such as "disobedience" account for 85% of the school discipline incidents in the state.

Read more:

Coverage from the Padres and Jovenes Unidos website:

Local coverage of the progress of the bill through the Colorado Legislature:

National coverage:

News coverage referencing the NEPC report:

Read the NEPC report here:

Read the text of the new law here, beginning on page 23:

Read more from the May 2012 Rural Policy Matters.