DENVER (AP) — Fewer Colorado students are being expelled in the wake of a statewide reform measure, according to a new study that could amplify Colorado’s voice in a growing nationwide debate over whether discipline procedures are setting students — particularly those from minority communities — on a path to prison and failure.
“Colorado School Discipline Report Card: Year One” was released Friday by Padres y Jovenes Unidos. The group, which has worked on the issue for more than two decades, analyzed data for 2012-13, the first full school year since the adoption in 2012 of Colorado’s so-called Smart School Discipline Law.
The study found an overall 25 percent drop from the previous year in expulsion rates, from 0.24 per 100 students to 0.18. But statistics compiled from school districts also show that black students were almost four times and Native American and Hispanic students around twice as likely to be suspended, expelled or referred to law enforcement authorities as white students. And the rate of referrals to law enforcement authorities was up 8 percent for black students, from 2.1 per 100 students to 2.2.
Daniel Kim, director of youth organizing for Padres y Jovenes, said the continuing racial disparities and differences from district to district show that more work needs to be done.
Colorado “has taken a big step in passing the law,” he added. “If it wants to continue to lead, it has to figure out a way to deal with the disparities.”
Kim said Padres y Jovenes has worked with national coalitions as part of a grassroots movement he credited with pushing the federal government to address the issue. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama’s justice and education departments sent school districts across the country a letter saying the burden of routine discipline fell on them, not police officers, and urging them to ensure that all personnel are trained in classroom management, conflict resolution and other approaches to defusing problems.
The letter also stated that the departments’ own reviews had found that black students were disciplined more harshly and frequently than white students in similar circumstances. “Racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem,” the federal departments said.
Kim linked harsh school discipline to the broad get-tough-on-crime-and-drugs trends of the 1980s and 1990s that are now being just as broadly revisited. In schools, the “zero tolerance” approach led to records that can make it difficult for young people to get financial aid for college or jobs or to join the military, Kim said.
“‘These are consequences that follow youth around for the rest of their lives,'” he said.
The 2012 Colorado reform, among other measures, required districts to implement mediation and counseling strategies aimed at keeping students out of the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
Linda Newell, a state senator, said in a statement Friday she was proud to have co-sponsored the 2012 legislation.
“‘Yet our efforts are not done,” the Littleton Democrat added. “We need to keep our promises and keep working to ensure that every Colorado child walks out of school with a diploma, not a criminal record.”
By Donna Bryson, AP Writer
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