School discipline issues - suspensions, expulsions and even paddling of students – have been an important undercurrent in the education debate at the Capitol this session. Four bills on aspects of the issue have been introduced. Two are moving through the process, one has been killed and a new measure has surfaced recently.
Here's a quick look at those bills:
House Bill 17-1210 – This is the high-profile discipline bill, and it focuses on treatment of children in preschool through second grade. The bill's basic goal is to eliminate – or at least significantly reduce – use of expulsion and out-of-school suspension for those young students.
The bill does contain some exceptions, primarily when the safety of students is involved, but most suspensions would be limited to three days, or five days in some cases. But some legislators are concerned that the bill would leave schools too little flexibility to handle disruptive students. An amendment adopted in the House partially assuaged those concerns.
The bill also requires districts to adopt prevention and early intervention strategies to reduce the need for early-grade suspensions and expulsions.
The measure passed the House 40-24 this week, with all the no votes coming from Republicans.
House Bill 17-1211 – A companion measure to the suspensions bill, this proposal would set up a pilot program of grants to districts for training educators in "culturally responsive" student discipline and "developmentally appropriate" responses to student behavior. The Department of Education would be required to produce an annual report on the program and whether it was having any impact. If the bill is passed it would be funded only by "gifts, grants and donations," so there would be no funding for districts if money wasn't raised. It passed the House 41-24 this week.
House Bill 17-1038 – Known as the paddling bill, this measure would have prohibited any staff member or volunteer in a school, licensed child care center or group home from using corporal punishment on a child. There was some discussion about the need for the bill, given that most school districts prohibit this already and that there's no hard data on the problem, if any. The bill passed the House 37-27. But in the GOP-controlled Senate, which tends to be skeptical of bills like this, the Judiciary Committee killed the measure.
House Bill 17-1276 – This measure, introduced March 17, prohibits the use of "a chemical, mechanical, or prone restraint upon a public school student," although the measure provides some exceptions. Districts would have to report annually to CDE about each case in which restraint was used.
School boards would have to include information about use of restraints and seclusion in district discipline policies, and the State Board of Education would have to establish a process through which parents could formally complain about use of restraints.
Advocates of the bills argue that disciplinary measures are used disproportionately on minority students, particularly boys, and on special education students, and that other kinds of interventions are more effective. They also stress the value of keeping students in the classroom.
But some legislators and educators are concerned about the bills' requirements being too rigid, and about whether inappropriate use of strict discipline measures is widespread.
A key mover behind the measures is Democratic Rep. Susan Lontine, who represents far southwest Denver. She's a prime sponsor on three of the bills.
Advocacy groups such as the Colorado Children's Campaign, Stand for Children and Padres y Jovenes Unidos strongly back the bills, along with the Colorado Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.