Expulsions dip to record low in Denver schools

The number of students expelled from Denver Public Schools has dipped to an historic low at a time of steady enrollment growth.

However, students who face harsh penalties for breaking school rules are disproportionately African-American students, according to a report presented Tuesday evening to the Denver school board.

There were 185 expulsions in 2009-2010 compared to 63 last year, said John Simmons, executive director of student services for the district. Meanwhile, the number of out-of-school suspensions has declined in that same period from 9,558 to 7,525 last year.

Fifty-five percent of students suspended from school last year were Hispanic, which is close to the 58 percent of Hispanic students who attend school in the district.

The big gap is between white and black students. White students make up 20 percent of DPS students but only 8 percent of those suspended. Conversely, black students make up only 15 percent of district students but comprised 32 percent of those who faced out-of-school suspensions last year.

The ratios for expulsions are similar. White students make up 10 percent of the pool, black students represent 30 percent and Hispanic students 56 percent.

Eldridge Greer, manager of psychological services in the district, said DPS is undergoing a philosophical shift in terms of how it handles discipline. Research and personal experience has shown that booting students out of school simply doesn’t change student behavior.

Instead, the district is embracing restorative justice programs and other techniques to resolve conflicts and to educate students about the impact of his or her actions and work with the student to make things right.

Expulsion figures for past three years

Click on charts to enlarge.

Denver’s goal is to become the first urban district to eliminate racial disparity in its expulsions and suspensions.

Denver is backed up by the passage last year of Senate Bill 46, also called the Smart School Discipline Law, which aims to curb the so-called “school to jail track” that critics say resulted from the adoption of zero-tolerance discipline policies a decade ago.

The district is moving in this direction so that “one bad afternoon doesn’t have to turn into a bad week or a bad year for a student,” Greer said.

DPS enrollment trends

Board member Jeannie Kaplan raised a concern about whether teachers are equipped to handle students who will now remain in the classroom.

Greer said all DPS teachers are offered de-escalation training to handle situations such as a student cursing at a teacher in front of other students.

“We want to give teachers tools to address student behavior without removals,” he said.

The district also plans to do a better job educating school communities about the reasons for the shift in policies, and providing more support to teachers who lack the tools or skills to deal with disruptive students.

Students caught with guns on school grounds still face automatic expulsion for one year, however.

And out-of-school and in-school suspensions remain an option for situations that put other students and school staff at risk, such as drug distribution or incidents involving weapons, robbery, bullying, assault, sex assault, indecent exposure, unlawful sexual contact, arson, explosives, witness intimidation, hazing and habitual disruption.

Greer pointed out that three Ds are not on the list: disrespect, defiance and disobedience.

“These three – while challenging – are one of most significant areas of disproportionality among students,” he said.

Simmons and Greer said those issues can be handled in alternative ways.

Board President Mary Seawell asked if the suspensions or expulsions are more prominent at certain schools or in certain parts of the city than in others.

“There is no concentrated evidence that any particular school or type of school is a driver for this type of disproportionality,” Greer said. “This is not a DPS-created issue. The difference is we’re not afraid of the data and our goal is to eliminate it.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.