DENVER (CBS4)– State lawmakers are debating the biggest overhaul of school discipline in Colorado in more than a decade. Students began the effort to revamp the “Zero Tolerance” policies and now lawmakers are taking action.
In the aftermath of the Columbine High School shootings, Colorado lawmakers overhauled school discipline. They enacted zero tolerance policies intended to make schools safer.
“A lot of my peers in school were being pushed out, suspended,” said student Yamili Quezada.
Studies show 100,000 students across Colorado have been referred to police over the past 10 years for on campus incidents. The vast majority of those cases are trivial- mouthing off, pulling hair and stealing a piece of gum.
The U.S. Department of Education said black and Hispanic kids are being cuffed far more often than their white peers.
“My friend got a ticket for disturbing the peace just for trying to stop a fight,” said student Dionna Hudson.
Hudson is among a group of students so troubled by what they saw happening, they decided to take action and take their case to the state Capitol.
“Took a lot of work, a lot of educating students and community, it took a lot of lobbying,” said student Brandon Garcia.
Many of the students had never been to the state Capitol before.
“You know you’re at the Capitol, THE Capitol, and I’m just like, can I do this? I was freaking out,” said Hudson.
The students joined forces with the advocacy group Padres y Jovenes where they learned how to organize, recruit volunteers and gain access to lawmakers.
They lobbied, testified and were shot down again and again. It would take two years, three attempts and a state task force to come up with Senate Bill 46. The bill has bipartisan support.
The measure eliminates mandatory expulsion except in cases of guns. It encourages districts to limit out-of-school suspensions and requires schools and police to report disciplinary measures taken by gender and race.
“That’s the whole point of growing up is making mistakes and learning from them,” said Garcia.
The journey to see this bill debated at the state Capitol has taken so long, many of the students working on the project won’t be around to see it enacted. Many of them are getting ready to graduate.
“That would be the greatest graduation gift for me, for this bill to be passed,” said Hudson.
A Senate committee will take up the school discipline bill next week. The students said they will be there to testify in support.