Colorado Reconsidering School Discipline for PreK through Second Grade


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Colorado (21.5% Latino) students have faced high rates of disciplinary action for years.

In 2018, nearly 6,000 preschool through second grade students were suspended or expelled from schools in that state.

That’s why state leaders are pushing to make stricter standards for expelling and suspending young students.

Harsh Discipline is Troubling

Ineffective school discipline policies disrupt learning and harm a child’s future, according to EdSource. This kind of correction can also possibly trigger traumatic stress, reinforce unconscious biases, and hinder opportunities to address the causes of challenging behavior.

Young students behave in challenging ways. The classroom setting and school schedules can prompt defiant behaviors.

Colorado state legislators realize the long-term, negative impacts of harsh discipline at an early age, prompting House Bill HB19-1194 — a law that would only permit an early-education student’s suspension if they bring a weapon to school, are in possession of drugs, or are considered a safety risk.

“We’re talking about 7-year-olds and younger,” state Rep. Colin Larson, a Littleton Republican and co-sponsor of the bill, told Chalkbeat. “It’s much easier to deal with the behavioral issues of a 7-year-old than it is to deal with the behavioral issues of a 21-year-old.”

Beyond behavioral issues, taking preschoolers out of class denies them valuable academic and social-emotional learning time, which is critical to build lifelong learners. Kids who experience suspensions or expulsions can lack the skills or capacity to keep up with their school work, which increases their risk of engaging in delinquent behaviors and dropping out of school.

Rosemarie Allen, president of the Institute for Racial Equity and Excellence, said the non-academic services that schools might provide support for the well-being of students and their families.

“Social-emotional learning is not a wraparound service,” Allen said. “If they don’t know how to behave at 4, at 5, at 6, and 7 years old, [educators] teach them.”

Moreover, some teachers and administrators may react more harshly to challenging behaviors of minority students due to their implicit bias. Other factors include their level of stress regarding large classes and the amount of training they’ve received concerning positive behavior techniques.

Children of color, children with disabilities, and boys are more likely to face suspension and expulsions.

The state capitol building in Denver, Colorado.
The state capitol building in Denver, Colorado.

Latino boys, for example, receive a disproportionate number of suspensions in many Colorado districts, according to Anne Schimke and Sam Park of Chalkbeat. Additionally, students with disabilities, who made up 10% of K-2 enrollment statewide, received 37% of K-2 suspensions.

“When a child is suspended, they don’t go away,” Bill Jaeger, Vice President of Early Childhood and Policy Initiatives of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, told KDVR. “They come back to the classroom and more often than not, we haven’t really resolved the underlying issue.”

The underlying issue of disobedience in early-education students is often childhood trauma. Unfortunately, millions of students lack access to critical support systems. For example, 7 million students nationwide are in schools with police but no mental health counselors.

Preschool Discipline Reform

In February 2019, a group of bipartisan lawmakers introduced a Bill HB19-1194  to reform early childhood discipline.

It wasn’t the first time. Similar bills died in the past.

Jaeger said the coalition of groups that worked on this latest bill tried to incorporate feedback from critics, such as the Colorado Rural Schools Alliance, while staying true to their goals.

After three weeks in the Committee on Education, the bill passed and was sent to the State House.

On March 20, was approved by the State House. Five days later, it was introduced in the State Senate and assigned to the Committee on Education.

If passed, the bill will only permit suspensions and expulsions under specific circumstances, and the length of the suspension cannot be more than three school days. Additionally, the state board must annually review the data concerning suspensions and expulsions.

HB19-1194 will take effect July 1, 2020, if it is ratified, allowing time for state-level mental health and funding initiatives to trickle down to school districts.

Follow updates here.

Share this with lawmakers in your state, expressing support for inclusive discipline practices for young children.

See what schools in Nashville are doing to reduce harsh disciplinary action.

See what this superintendent is doing in Oregon to push for more social and emotional support in schools.

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