Panel poised to expel ‘zero-tolerance’ policies |

Panel poised to expel ‘zero-tolerance’ policies

Debi Brazzale
Colorado News Agency
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

DENVER, Colorado – Sweeping changes to zero-tolerance discipline policies in public schools may soon be underway if proposed legislation – incubated by a legislative task force and given preliminary approval Tuesday at the Capitol – finds favor with other lawmakers who convene in January.

The task force, established under Senate Bill 11-133, sponsored by Sens. Evie Hudak, D-Arvada, Linda Newell, D-Littleton, and Rep. B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland, was tasked with examining: once-proliferating zero-tolerance policies, the use of legal sanctions for students, and how schools interact with the juvenile justice system.

The soon-to-be-drafted omnibus bill is expected to address:

• Affording local discretion at the local level

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• Eliminating most mandatory expulsions

• Retooling of suspension policies

• Integrating restorative justice opportunities

• The role of law enforcement

Tuesday was the deadline for the bill’s contents – in conceptual form – to be approved by lawmakers on the panel and submitted for drafting by staffers.

Critics say the one-size-fits-all zero-tolerance policies at public schools – introduced in the ’90s on campuses across the country to stem a perceived surge in violence, illegal drug use and disciplinary woes – have tied educators’ hands and are forcing too many youths into the justice system, often for minor infractions.

Newell, who co-chairs the committee with Nikkel, said she is pleased with the bill that is emerging and is particularly pleased that Colorado could be a trend setter in revisiting zero-tolerance policies.

“Schools and parents are going to love what this bill does,” said Newell. “There’s significant meat to this bill. Other states are watching what we do on this and I think we’ll be on the leading edge of this issue.”

Rote punishments, meted out in accordance with strict guidelines, have often resulted in kids falling prey to what some have been calling a “school-to-prison pipeline,” said Newell.

“It’s exciting to think that we can help reverse the trend for zero-tolerance and reduce unnecessary punitive actions for kids that get caught up in the system,” she said.

Task force member Rep. Libby Szabo, R-Arvada, said giving schools the opportunity to assess an incident and respond on a case-by-case basis will produce better results.

“I’m hoping that the discretion will result in common-sense policy that is determined at the local level,” said Szabo. “Common sense will ensure that we don’t over- or under-discipline and will allow children to be treated as individuals who have their own unique personalities and circumstances.”

The panel will meet again in October to fine-tune the proposed legislation.

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