In a major victory for Colorado students and the movement to end zero-tolerance discipline policies, the Colorado state legislature passed a bill that gives schools more flexibility in school discipline policies and encourages them to pursue restorative justice practices rather than referring students to law enforcement. Senate Bill 46, called the "Fair Discipline in Schools Act," is one of the most far-reaching state laws on the issue of school discipline reform and puts CO at the forefront of the movement to end both harsh discipline policies and the racial disparities in the application of those policies.
The new legislation gives schools discretion over suspensions and eliminates mandatory expulsions (except in cases involving firearms), allowing schools to set up graduated discipline systems that assigned punishments commensurate with offenses. The bill also ensures more training for school officials to better deal with discipline issues and streamlines the reporting of disaggregated data to better understand how discipline policies are applied and to whom.
Organizing efforts by student and parent groups like Padres & Jóvenes Unidos was particularly important in generating the public will to pass SB46. In the past two years Jóvenes Unidos members have given numerous television and radio interviews and public presentations and engaged in legislative lobbying on behalf of school discipline reform. You can check out more about their campaign to reform school discipline practices here.
Instituting fair discipline practices in schools is a crucial component to ensuring all students have an equal opportunity to learn. Zero-tolerance policies, under which students can be suspended or expelled for minor offenses, remove students from the classroom and thereby increase the likelihood that they drop out of school altogether and enter the criminal justice system. Moreover, numerous studies have shown and federal data has confirmed that minority students are disproportionately affected by harsh discipline policies. We need to keep kids in the classroom, not push them out down the school-to-prison pipeline.
To learn more about the effects of zero-tolerance policies and the groups working to overturn them, check out our school discipline toolkit here.