Currently, Colorado state law allows for the suspension or expulsion of any student, regardless of grade or age, under certain defined circumstances, such as if the student is found to possess drugs or a dangerous weapon on school grounds. Similarly, he or she may be expelled if they’re found to have engaged in behavior on or off school property that is detrimental to the welfare or safety of other pupils or school personnel. A school district’s decision to expel a student triggers an automatic process during which the school must prove that the student committed the act underlying the expulsion and also consider the following factors: the age of the student; the disciplinary history of the student; whether the student has a disability; the seriousness of the violation committed by the student; whether the violation committed by the student threatened the safety of any student or staff member; and whether a lesser intervention would properly address the violation committed by the student. A student found to be in possession of a firearm at school must be expelled for a period of no less than one year.
According to the Colorado Department of Education, more than 93,000 students were suspended in the 2017-2018 school year for reasons ranging from drug, alcohol and tobacco violations, sexual misconduct, disobedience, and possession of dangerous weapons. With approximately 910,000 students enrolled in public schools state-wide, this accounted for more than 10% of the student population. Another 1,022 were expelled from school. The Colorado Sun reports that of those 93,000 suspensions, 5,800 of those were students in second grade or younger.
Recently, a bill was introduced during the first regular session of the Colorado General Assembly that would change the disciplinary structure for our state’s youngest students. House Bill 19-1194 (HB19-1194) allows a state-funded, community-based preschool program, school district, or charter school to impose an out-of-school suspension or expel a student enrolled in preschool, kindergarten, or first or second grade only under specified circumstances, including possession of a dangerous weapon, the use, possession or distribution of a dangerous drug, or if failure to remove the student from the school building would create a safety threat that cannot otherwise be addressed. However, before the school could impose an out-of-school suspension or expulsion, the school must have employed alternative behavioral and disciplinary interventions in order to avoid the suspension or expulsion, and it must seek to minimize the duration of the suspension or expulsion to only the length of time that the school requires to resolve the safety threat. In no case may a school suspend a student for more than three school days. Further, the state board must annually review the data concerning suspensions and expulsions of students in preschool, kindergarten, and first and second grade, with an aim to minimize those occurrences.
Importantly, the bill recognizes the fragility of our state’s youngest students:
Children in preschool and early elementary years are at acritical stage of development, and a child’s early experiences in school have a dramatic impact on the child’s health and future success in school. The practice of out-of-school suspension or expulsion of a young child may have profound consequences for the child, as these exclusionary measures come at a time when the child is supposed to be forming positive associations with school and building positive relationships with teachers and peers. Research indicates that young children who are suspended or expelled from school are several times more likely to experience disciplinary action later in their academic careers, drop out or disengage from high school, report feeling disconnected from school, and be incarcerated later in life.
The primary goal of HB19-1194 is that by placing strict boundaries on the number of days preschool and young elementary students can be suspended from school and by requiring a more thoughtful approach to disciplining the youngest students, the frequency of suspensions and expulsions in Colorado will decrease.
If you or a family member are facing a suspension, expulsion or any disciplinary investigation in a Colorado school or university, we can help. Contact Lindsay Richardson for a free consultation today.