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Task Force Examines Zero-Tolerance Policy In Colorado Schools

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Students at the state Capitol on Wednesday (credit: CBS)

Students at the state Capitol on Wednesday (credit: CBS)

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DENVER (CBS4)- School may be out for summer, but at the state Capitol on Wednesday, school discipline was under scrutiny, specifically zero-tolerance policies that some say go too far.

“I was ticketed and suspended for trying to break up a fight in the lunchroom,” said student Brandon Wagner.

Wagner was among those who testified at the state Capitol before a task force. That task force is reviewing school discipline policies set up in the aftermath of the summer of violence and the Columbine shootings. Those polices, some say, were good intentioned, but with unintended consequences.

One instance recounted in Wednesday’s testimony profiles an 11-year-old who swung a bean bag in class.

“The teacher reported it to the school resource officer who gave Nathan a ticket for harassment and third degree assault,” testified Wagner.

In another instance, an 8th grader was caught doodling on his desk, “He was given a municipal ticket for graffiti,” said one student as she recounted what happened.

And yet another instance of a 10-year-old who stole a piece of gum, “Paul was arrested and charged with misdemeanor theft.”

“We are here because we believe schools can be safe without criminalizing for minor misbehavior,” said Wagner. “We believe that through this committee, Colorado can pave the way for national school discipline reform.”

The task force was set up by the legislature that includes not only lawmakers but a police chief, a school board president and Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett.

“Even more important than public safety, for every district attorney, it’s our obligation to be fair,” said Garnett.

Lawmakers say 10,000 Colorado students were referred to police by their schools in 2010, many of those included minor incidents. They say this isn’t about letting real criminals off the hook, but having real balance between safety and appropriate discipline.

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