DPS Students Continue to be Heard on School Discipline Issue

DPS Students Continue to be Heard on School Discipline Issue

They rallied to the cause of eliminating the "school-to-prison pipeline" — the contention that many students are being pushed out of school by unfair and unevenly enforced discipline policies — and earlier this year helped change Colorado law.On Monday, students from the community advocacy group Padres & Jóvenes Unidos will meet with representatives from Denver Public Schools and the Denver Police Department to offer further input as the institutions hammer out a new agreement on the role of cops in the district.
The meeting represents another chance to have their voices heard, closing the loop on a long but educational process in which the group worked to reform policies that studies indicate have had disproportionate impact on minorities.
"It's like an evolution that needed to happen," said Richard Villa, a 17-year-old senior at Montbello High School. "It's a continuing work in progress. It's a way to solve issues that are hurting many people."
Moved by stories of family and friends who ran afoul of the system, they're engaged with the process of making themselves part of the solution — though some of their suggestions aren't covered by the intergovernmental agreement between DPS and DPD, and others may be unrealistic.
The agreement was first drafted in 2004 and has been renewed each year since. But this year's passage of Senate Bill 46, which inserted more discretion, a mandate for officer training and additional data reporting into school discipline law, has prompted another look at reworking some provisions.
"We wanted the opportunity to sit down and look at the language and update it to current needs and dynamics," said Michael Eaton, chief of safety and security for DPS. "We're working with (DPD) in a partnership capacity to make sure we have good fits in schools as far as police officers and that information is free-flowing and shared between police and school administration."
Monday's meeting will generate more stakeholder input with a group that has frequently weighed in on district issues.
Padres & Jóvenes Unidos has been involved in the school discipline issue from the start of efforts to revamp Colorado's zero-tolerance policies. The group has held concerns, mirrored in national studies as well as one at the University of Colorado at Boulder, that racial disparities in school referrals to law enforcement over even minor incidents have been problematic.
Much of the concern revolves around the role of school resource officers — SROs — in addressing disciplinary matters. Although the district and police praise the SRO program as an effective tool, Padres & Jóvenes would like to see law enforcement given less latitude in a school setting.
In addition to including student and community input into the training and selection of SROs, the group wants to ensure that officers can't use their position to check a student's immigration status and to limit searches to instances that involve threats to school safety and felonies.
"This IGA (intergovernmental agreement) could be the best in the country," said Jason Sinocruz, a lawyer for the Washington, D.C.-based Advancement Project, which has been working with the Denver group. "This document could serve as a model. In other places, people look to Denver. It's taken a little pushing, but here they realize that community voices are very important."
William Nagle, deputy chief of administration for DPD, noted that the IGA is essentially a business contract between the district and police, addressing various financial and staffing issues such as employing officers at after-school events.
Some of the group's concerns venture more into policy areas not covered by the agreement, he added, and others would be better addressed through the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board. And some proposed restrictions on officers he called "a bit unrealistic."
"Frankly, we're not going to take away officers' discretion to act appropriately in those situations," he said. "But (Padres & Jóvenes) have these ideas of what they'd like to do, and we understand where they're coming from. And the SRO program can embrace a lot of the ideas."
Nagle said the department has had a helpful dialogue with the group.
"We understand the policy things they'd like to see," said Nagle, who has met twice previously with the group. "I find their expectations might be a little high in terms of things they feel they can influence, but we're all on the same page. The idea is to have that safe learning environment for the kids."
The students look forward to their dialogue with the district and police — and the ongoing process in which they feel they have a very personal stake.
"In the beginning, I wasn't thinking this would ever happen," said Delia Lozano, a 16-year-old senior at Montbello High. "But there are so many people in support of us, I knew there was something we can do for the students and the community."

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