Link to article on Denver Post websiteEditorial: Losing tolerance over zero-tolerance policies
Since Columbine, too many students are strictly disciplined for mundane matters. We support state legislation to change that.
By The Denver Post
Few events have shaped school discipline policies the way the 1999 Columbine High School massacre has — not just in Colorado but around the nation.
Zero tolerance became a catchphrase for "doing-everything-possible-to-make-sure-this-never-happens-again."
And we get that. Keeping children safe is the very least we should expect of our schools.
It has become apparent, however, that too many children are being suspended and expelled for mundane matters, and the system needs to recalibrate.
We are glad to see such an effort embodied in Senate Bill 46, a bipartisan measure in the state legislature that is the product of hours of meetings and input from educators.
The bill puts disciplinary flexibility where it belongs — with the districts. It boils zero tolerance down to its core, which is a prohibition on guns in schools.
It directs districts to create their own disciplinary codes, shaped to fit the students and issues that make each district unique. It encourages districts to limit out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. And it encourages the use of peer mediation and restorative justice.
Some, however, are concerned the bill would amount to another unfunded mandate. Costs are deeply concerning to many districts struggling to absorb funding cuts.
Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, said that's why the bill emphasizes flexibility.
Beyond the three dozen Front Range school districts, the majority of the state's 178 districts are in rural areas. Restorative justice, which focuses on repairing the harm done, could take very different forms in rural and urban districts.
In rural Colorado, where the superintendent might be found behind the wheel of a school bus, restorative justice might be as simple as pulling over and making one kid understand why he needs to sincerely apologize for whatever he did to another. In more populated districts, where students may not know one another as well, it may be a more formal process.
Neither is necessarily a better approach. They are different to meet varying circumstances.
The bill also creates a training program for school resource officers so they are better equipped to bridge the divide between law enforcement and school discipline.
Recent estimates illustrate why the change is necessary. Padres & Jovenes Unidos, a Denver-based advocacy group, has compiled figures showing nearly 100,000 students were referred to law enforcement during the last decade, many for minor fights and disorderly conduct. Those numbers are troubling, indeed.
This bill lays out a road map for Colorado districts to change the culture and practice of school discipline. The legislature should pass it.