DENVER (CBS4)– Lawmakers are debating a bill at the state Capitol that aims to reduce the number of young children suspended and expelled from school. Advocates believe schools should scale back punishment.
In Colorado last year, more than 7,800 preschool through third graders received out-of-school suspensions. The vast majority of them were boys, minorities and children with disabilities.
Some lawmakers say many of the suspensions were for behavior typical of children ages three to seven.
Cassandra Johnson described to CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd the first time her son Colby was suspended in preschool.
“For biting another student, he was sent home,” said Johnson.
Then there was the time he pretended to fly like Superman, “Entered into the space of another child. And that was a bad thing.”
Before he was 8 years old, Colby was suspended at least 10 times.
Colby is one of thousands of preschoolers who are suspended each year.
The Colorado Children’s Campaign says that most of those suspended are African American boys. That group makes up 18 percent of preschool enrollment but 48 percent of suspensions.
“I said, ‘People are suspending preschoolers?'” asked Rep. Susan Lontine, a Democrat representing Denver.
Representatives Susan Lontine and Janet Buckner are sponsors of the bill that prohibits suspension and expulsion of children in preschool through third grade unless those children are a serious safety threat.
The bill also requires school districts to adopt prevention and intervention strategies that include assessing children for disabilities.
“Research shows practices like out-of-school suspension and expulsion are widening the gap in education achievement,” said Buckner, a Democrat representing Arapahoe County.
If the bill passes, Johnson hopes maybe children like Colby won’t be suspended for throwing their shoes over the fence.
“I think they would have focused on what is a better alternative,” said Johnson.
“We just need to make sure we’re not suspending kids for being kids,” said Lontine.
While no one testified against HB17-1210 on Monday, some Republican lawmakers on the committee expressed concern about the impact on other children in the classroom. Despite that, the bill does have bipartisan support.