Colorado Lawmakers introduced legislation on March 12th, that will create safer, healthier, and more equitable schools using disciplinary methods that support student learning and well-being.
Research demonstrates that Black, Latinx, and Queer students are often punished more harshly for the same infractions than their white counterparts. In Colorado, during the 2018-2019 academic year, Black students were 3.2 times more likely to be suspended than white students, and Hispanic students were 1.7 times more likely to be suspended than white students.
An American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report shows that nationwide students with disabilities are three times more likely to be arrested than their non-disabled peers.
State Representative Leslie Herod and State Senator Janet Buckner partnered with community groups including Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, NAACP State Conference, Stand for Children, and others to develop SB21-182, which aims to address disproportionate discipline within schools and overcome the school to prison pipeline.
“In Colorado, 120,082 students attend schools with police on staff, but no school psychologist,” said Rep. Herod. She continues, “Students need mental and emotional support, not court dates and handcuffs. Our bill works to end the criminalization of youth behavior by decreasing the use of ticketing and law enforcement interaction. We must replace today’s antiquated discipline tactics with compassionate, evidence-based intervention strategies. It’s really just common sense.”
Research shows that disciplinary tactics such as suspension or ticketing are not effective deterrents for students but are likely indicators of poor outcomes for students later with studies showing that students who are suspended or ticketed are more likely to repeat a grade or drop out completely. Furthermore, the way punishments are distributed within schools is inherently discriminatory. This has harmful, permanent consequences on students’ health, safety, and ability to learn and demonstrates the role of racial bias in the school discipline system.
“As an educator and a mother, and grandmother, to Black children, I have seen first-hand the ways in which harmful disciplinary practices impact the youth,” said Sen. Janet Buckner. Sen. Buckner recalls frequent occasions when students were sent to her with behavioral and anger issues, “It was often the case that administrators would not know how to effectively address the needs of these students. These students overwhelmingly tended to be Black and Latinx and did not get the resources that they needed to succeed. I want my grandchildren to grow up in an environment where they are supported through their missteps, not taken away in handcuffs.”
“Every child, no matter what they look like or what neighborhood they live in, deserves a safe, healthy learning environment,” said Elsa Bañuelos, Executive Director of Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, “we recently completed a report with NAACP showing that between 2014 and 2020, there were at least 38,295 tickets and arrests of K-12 students in Colorado, the majority of which affected Queer students and students of color. These tickets mean trips to court for Our students and communities deserve schools that treat them as human beings, rather than a system that criminalizes them.”
“In Colorado, 120,082 students attend schools with police on staff, but no school psychologist. Students need mental and emotional support, not court dates and handcuffs.”
State Rep. Leslie Herod
Rosemary Lytle, State President, NAACP Colorado Montana Wyoming State Conference, says that “For too many children — especially our Black and Latinx children and children with unique learning needs — entering our classrooms means they stop being seen as children, as scholars, and start being seen as statistics. Black, Latinx, and Queer students and students with learning, attention, and behavior disorders deserve to learn and grow in an environment where who they are as people is celebrated rather than punished. This bill will move schools toward becoming spaces where all children have the opportunity to be their joyful, curious selves while they grow and gain the skills and knowledge that will help our state meet its current and future challenges.”
“All of our children are legally entitled to a free and appropriate education. Our children with disabilities, especially our children of color have been denied this for too long because the intersection between racism and disability issues has become weaponized. The intent is irrelevant and the impact has been tragic. It is in the interest of every Coloradan that we stop harming our next generation and really make this a state that nurtures the gifts of all children which cannot happen when our kids are criminalized,” said Julie Reiskin, Executive Director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition.
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