School Discipline Reform Underway in Colorado

Last Updated: March 30, 2012

This article appeared in the March 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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A student discipline reform bill has been making its way through the Colorado Legislature this month, and supporters are optimistic about its chances of passage. The Smarter School Discipline Bill (Senate Bill 46) requires all school districts to incorporate graduated discipline as part of their policies and promotes alternatives to suspension and expulsion like Restorative Justice. (Editor’s note: A graduated discipline approach restricts exclusionary punishments to more serious misbehaviors.) The bill also streamlines reporting of discipline incidents and would require new data be released on how students are disciplined. The Colorado Senate Education Committee has approved the bill and advocates are working for its hearing on the floor.

Colorado’s rates of exclusionary discipline are very high, particularly for low-income students and students of color.  Since the Columbine tragedy, “zero-tolerance” policies were enacted, and law enforcement personnel are a regular presence in public schools. Studies show 100,000 students across Colorado have been referred to police over the past 10 years for on-campus incidents.

Padres and Jovenes Unidos (Parents and Youth United) from Denver, has been at the forefront of the policy work to secure legislation authorizing a task force to study discipline issues in the state. The group worked to publicize the effects of exclusionary discipline on Colorado youth, and organized to advocate for state-level changes to the law permitting districts’ use of suspensions, expulsions, and tickets to punish students. Last year, the Colorado Legislature authorized a School Discipline Task Force to hold hearings to investigate the practices and craft legislation for change. The multidisciplinary task force met last summer and fall. Senate Bill 46 is the result of their work. (See RPM coverage on the task force process here and here.)

Prior to this statewide campaign, Padres and Jovenes Unidos had completed a five-year effort that included research, development of alternatives, negotiation, and collaboration to reduce dramatically the numbers of police citations and out-of-school suspensions issued by the Denver Public Schools. That new school discipline policy directs school administrators to handle minor student misconduct, permits out-of-school suspension or expulsion only for serious misconduct, and requires schools to eliminate racial disparities in discipline, among other changes.

Read more:

Local coverage of the Smarter School Discipline Bill:

Read a copy of Colorado Senate Bill 46 here:

Editorial on SB12-046:

Padres and Jovenes Unidos website:

Read more from the March 2012
Rural Policy Matters.