DENVER (CBS4)– Some state lawmakers want to limit school suspensions and expulsions in preschool and elementary school. The Colorado Children’s Campaign says, in the last four years, there have been nearly 22,000 suspensions of kids in kindergarten through second grade in Colorado.
Most of them are boys, kids of color and kids with intellectual and developmental disabilities. And child advocates say many of them involve behavior that is typical of kids five to seven years old.
Representatives Susan Lontine and Colin Larson have introduced a bill that prohibits suspensions and expulsions in preschool through second grade, unless a kid has a dangerous weapon, uses a controlled substance or engages in actions that endanger the health or safety of others.
Dawn Fritz is among those supporting it. She told a House committee that her son has Autism, but his school, she says, made him feel like he was just a bad kid.
“When he was in kindergarten, he was suspended three times for behaviors directly related to his disability. The environment shredded my kid’s self-esteem. He felt like he was a bad kid and could do no right. He did not feel safe or supported.”
Lontine, a Democrat representing Jefferson County, says suspending kids who are so young sets them up for failure.
“School success by the end of third grade is a powerful predictor of later academic and life outcomes… yet research shows practices like out-of-school suspensions and expulsions are widening the gap in education achievement,” said Lontine.
The bill limits suspensions to three days and requires all school districts to develop a conduct and discipline plan.
Larson, a Republican representing Littleton, told committee members, “Unfortunately, what we’re seeing in a lot of our schools is it’s easier to remove a child from the situation rather than address the behavioral issue.”
Rep. Jim Wilson, a Republican representing Salida, is a former school principal.
He says expulsions and suspensions are sometimes the only way to change behavior, “I feel like a slap in the face has been delivered with professional administrators and educators that it seems like we do nothing.”
Wilson says one disruptive kid shouldn’t impact the education of everyone else. But Fritz says the impact of suspensions on her son has stayed with him four years later.
“Having to reassure my child he is not bad and it was just that the educators at the time didn’t know how to help him was heartbreaking. No kindergartner should be made to feel that way.”
The bill does not apply to in-school suspensions. Rural schools have some flexibility on the length of a suspension since they often lack resources for in-school suspensions and behavioral health professionals. The bill passed its first committee.