Where We Stand

Report: Students of color still more likely to face harsh discipline in Colorado schools

Student leaders with Padres & Jovenes Unidos attend a press conference in 2013 regarding a new intergovernmental agreement outlining the role of resource officers in Denver schools.

Harsh disciplinary actions were less common in Colorado schools during the 2013-14 school year than in previous ones, according to a report released by Padres y Jóvenes Unidos today.

But black, Native American, and Latino students were still significantly more likely to be suspended, expelled, or referred to law enforcement than their white peers.

The reports examine the impact of the 2012 Smart School Discipline Law, which rolled back zero tolerance policies and increased data collection related to discipline incidents. Padres advocated for the state law and for a number of changes to school discipline policies in Denver in recent years as part of an effort to curb rules it said were racially discriminatory and pushing students out of school.

This is the second such report by the advocacy group focused on equity in schools.

Padres says the report aims to help “uncover promising practices and examples of effective educational accountability while … highlighting the numerous ares for improvement and the deeper systemic issues that still need to be addressed.”

The report describes state trends as promising.

Colorado’s out-of-school suspension rate fell 7 percent between 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years. Rates of expulsion and referrals to law-enforcement fell 15 percent apiece. Since the passage of the 2012 law, suspension rates statewide are down 17 percent, expulsion rates down 36 percent, and referrals to law enforcement down 23 percent.

Denver, Cherry Creek, and Jefferson County schools led the way in the decrease in out-of-school suspensions between 2009 and the present. In Denver, 9,567 students received an out-of-school suspension in 2009, compared to 6,328 in 2013-14. Denver and Jefferson County were also the two districts with the largest reductions in expulsions.

But in most of the state’s districts, white students were still less likely to be subject to harsh discipline than black, Native American, and Latino students. In some cases, the disparity between white students and students of color has actually grown since 2012.

Padres calculated an “inequitable discipline risk indicator” to highlight how much more likely students of color were to receive a harsh disciplinary action than a white student. Aspen, Bayfield, Steamboat Springs, Denver, and Animas were the districts with the largest disparities.

The disparities are not uniform across the state. In 89 districts, for instance, students of color are not more likely than white peers to be expelled, suspended, or referred to law enforcement.

The move toward more lenient discipline policies has not been without complications. Last month, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association told the district’s board that lack of consistency and training in alternative discipline approaches such as restorative justice are leading to disorder in classrooms and stress for teachers.

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.