New Colorado bill would limit suspensions for pre-K to 2nd grade students

DENVER -- State Representatives will debate a bill in the House chambers this week aimed at curbing the number of young students suspended or expelled in Colorado each year.

The bill would make the standards for expelling and suspending students stricter, while continuing to give school administrators the ultimate say.

The Colorado Children's Campaign has been fighting for the bill for three years. It pulled statistics from the Department of Education and found last year, nearly 6,000 preschool through 2nd grade students were suspended or expelled in Colorado. The group broke the numbers down further and found boys, children of color and children with disabilities were disproportionately impacted.

Furthermore, Bill Jaeger with the Colorado Children's Campaign, said his team was concerned to find students were suspended or expelled for dress code violations, talking back or other defiant behavior -- all of which warrants a punishment, but not the extreme step of suspending or expelling that student.

"When a child is suspended, they don’t go away. They come back to the classroom and more often than not, we haven’t really resolved the underlying issue. Sometimes a suspension is necessary to resolve a safety issue, but if it’s not a safety issue, there is no evidence that removing a child from school helps them adjust their behavior, especially at this young age when kids don’t understand cause and effect like an older child does," said Jaeger.

The bill is focused on public preschool through 2nd grade because this is the age at which kids are developing an understanding of themselves at school and children’s brains are most malleable.

It doesn’t ban suspension and expulsion completely -- those forms of punishment can be used in situations where a student brings a weapon or drugs to school, or harms the health and safety of other students. School administrators will have the ultimate discretion on when suspension and expulsion can be used.

The Colorado Rural Schools Alliance was originally against the idea, wanting school administrators to have more say on when suspension and expulsion can be used. Now that it's been added into the latest version of this bill, the Colorado Rural Schools Alliance has changed its stance and says it's neutral toward the bill.

Jaeger said his team wants to see more investment made into alternatives -- such as providing better teacher and behavioral support in classrooms.

The bill has bipartisan sponsorship in both the State House and the State Senate.

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