Who Is In Charge

State panel targets school discipline

Zero tolerance policies came in for a lot of criticism Wednesday at the first meeting of a legislative study committee assigned to review discipline methods in Colorado schools.

Such policies have lead to criminalization of students who commit minor infractions, exploding suspension and expulsion rates, increased dropout rates and reduced student achievement, witnesses told the Legislative Task Force to Study School Discipline, meeting at the Capitol.

Witnesses repeatedly used the phrases “school to prison pipeline” and “school to jail track” to describe the effect of zero tolerance policies, increased use of suspension and expulsion and rising numbers of student referrals to police. The use of all those tactics has increased in the years since the 1999 Columbine High School tragedy.

Students testify at legislative hearing
Students Jose Cordova (left) and Brandon Wagoner testified about school discipline policies to a legislative task force on July 27, 2011.

“Zero tolerance, when it comes to the vast majority of incidents … actually makes schools less safe,” said Seema Ahmad of the Advancement Project, a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy group that works on school discipline.

She continued by saying, “Zero tolerance is a mismatch with where young people are developmentally” and “Zero tolerance policies that are blunt and hard don’t have the deterrent effect many of their proponents believe they have.”

Ahmad’s slide presentation even cited No Child Left Behind, accountability systems and testing as having created incentives for schools to push troublesome and under-performing students out of school.

Marco Nuñez, a member of the task force, presented Colorado statistics gathered by Padres y Jóvenes Unidos, a community group that has advocated for reform of discipline practices. Nuñez is a staff member of the group.

Nuñez and high school senior Dionna Hudson said the group’s research found that there have been nearly 100,000 student referrals to law enforcement in Colorado during the last decade.

“We see racial disparities in how students are punished,” said Hudson, saying that three black students and two Hispanic students are disciplined for every white student.

Nuñez said more than 60,000 Colorado students received out-of-school suspensions last year and more than 2,000 students were expelled. Referrals to police, suspensions and expulsions vary widely by district, the two said.

Discipline methods vary by district

They said Jefferson County has the highest rate of police referrals, 19 percent of all disciplinary cases, and the Harrison district has the highest use of suspensions and expulsions.

Nuñez said there’s a data gap in how many police referrals result in citations, and that there’s also no data on how much current discipline policies cost schools and law enforcement.

Both cited the Denver public schools as a case study in how reform of discipline policies can work. The district adopted a less punitive discipline policy in 2005, and Nuñez said referrals to police dropped from about 1,400 in 2002-03 to 512 in 2007-08.

National statistics for 2006 cited by Ahmad included 3.3 million students suspended, 100,000 students expelled and discipline rates double those of 1974. Those statistics found that minority and disabled students were disciplined at higher rates than other students.

Jonathan Senft, a legislative researcher, told the task force that “Colorado has a pattern of setting rigid laws” on school discipline but that the legislature “has eased those laws” in some cases.

Incidents “that would have been handled internally a generation ago are now referred to police,” he said, tracing the origin of zero tolerance policies in Colorado to a comprehensive law passed in 1984. That and subsequent laws “have resulted in a number of unintended consequences,” Senft noted.

The 16-member task force includes six legislators and 10 other members from law enforcement, education and youth services agencies. It’s assigned to examine zero tolerance, use of law enforcement referrals and the interaction of school discipline and the criminal justice system.

Rep. B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland
Rep. B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland

Members of the panel seem inclined to the view that school discipline policies need change. “Sometimes we’ve created new problems” with school discipline laws, said Rep. B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland and vice chair of the task force. “That’s certainly the case with zero tolerance.”

The task force is scheduled to meet on Aug. 24 and 30, Sept. 12 and Oct. 12. The panel is authorized to propose up to eight bills on the issue. The Legislative Council will review the committee’s proposals during a Nov. 8 meeting. Task force website

The panel is one of two study groups looking at education-related issues this summer and fall. The Educational Success Task Force, assigned to suggest ways to improve student transitions at key points in the K-12 system, hasn’t yet started work.

Tennessee Votes 2018

Early voting begins Friday in Tennessee. Here’s where your candidates stand on education.

PHOTO: Creative Commons

Tennesseans begin voting on Friday in dozens of crucial elections that will culminate on Aug. 2.

Democrats and Republicans will decide who will be their party’s gubernatorial nominee. Those two individuals will face off in November to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Tennessee’s next governor will significantly shape public education, and voters have told pollsters that they are looking for an education-minded leader to follow Haslam.

In Memphis, voters will have a chance to influence schools in two elections, one for school board and the other for county commission, the top local funder for schools, which holds the purse strings for schools.

To help you make more informed decisions, Chalkbeat asked candidates in these four races critical questions about public education.

Here’s where Tennessee’s Democratic candidates for governor stand on education

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley hope to become the state’s first Democratic governor in eight years.

Tennessee’s Republican candidates for governor answer the big questions on education

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, businessman Randy Boyd, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, and businessman Bill Lee are campaigning to succeed fellow Republican Haslam as governor, but first they must defeat each other in the 2018 primary election.

Memphis school board candidates speak out on what they want to change

Fifteen people are vying for four seats on the Shelby County Schools board this year. That’s much higher stakes compared to two years ago when five seats were up for election with only one contested race.

Aspiring county leaders in charge of money for Memphis schools share their views

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners and county mayor are responsible for most school funding in Memphis. Chalkbeat sent a survey to candidates asking their thoughts on what that should look like.

Early voting runs Mondays through Saturdays until Saturday, July 28. Election Day is Thursday, Aug. 2.

full board

Adams 14 votes to appoint Sen. Dominick Moreno to fill board vacancy

State Sen. Dominick Moreno being sworn in Monday evening. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

A state senator will be the newest member of the Adams 14 school board.

Sen. Dominick Moreno, a graduate of the district, was appointed Monday night on a 3-to-1 vote to fill a vacancy on the district’s school board.

“He has always, since I have known him, cared about this community,” said board member David Rolla, who recalled knowing Moreno since grade school.

Moreno will continue to serve in his position in the state legislature.

The vacancy on the five-member board was created last month, when the then-president, Timio Archuleta, resigned with more than a year left on his term.

Colorado law says when a vacancy is created, school board must appoint a new board member to serve out the remainder of the term.

In this case, Moreno will serve until the next election for that seat in November 2019.

The five member board will see the continued rollout of the district’s improvement efforts as it tries to avoid further state intervention.

Prior to Monday’s vote, the board interviewed four candidates including Joseph Dreiling, a former board member; Angela Vizzi; Andrew LaCrue; and Moreno. One woman, Cynthia Meyers, withdrew her application just as her interview was to begin. Candidate, Vizzi, a district parent and member of the district’s accountability committee, told the board she didn’t think she had been a registered voter for the last 12 months, which would make her ineligible for the position.

The board provided each candidate with eight general questions — each board member picked two from a predetermined list — about the reason the candidates wanted to serve on the board and what they saw as their role with relation to the superintendent. Board members and the public were barred from asking other questions during the interviews.

Moreno said during his interview that he was not coming to the board to spy for the state Department of Education, which is evaluating whether or not the district is improving. Nor, he added, was he applying for the seat because the district needs rescuing.

“I’m here because I think I have something to contribute,” Moreno said. “I got a good education in college and I came home. Education is the single most important issue in my life.”

The 7,500-student district has struggled in the past year. The state required the district to make significant improvement in 2017-18, but Adams 14 appears to be falling short of expectations..

Many community members and parents have protested district initiatives this year, including cancelling parent-teacher conferences, (which will be restored by fall), and postponing the roll out of a biliteracy program for elementary school students.

Rolla, in nominating Moreno, said the board has been accused of not communicating well, and said he thought Moreno would help improve those relationships with the community.

Board member Harvest Thomas was the one vote against Moreno’s appointment. He did not discuss his reason for his vote.

If the state’s new ratings this fall fail to show sufficient academic progress, the State Board of Education may direct additional or different actions to turn the district around.