School discipline bill scuttled, as sponsors deal with criticism, threats

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The sponsors of school discipline accountability bill at the Colorado Capitol said Tuesday that the need is real, but the timing isn’t right, and they’ll scuttle the legislation for this year.

Sen. Janet Bucket, D-Aurora, and Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, issued a joint statement saying there’s not a “path forward” for Senate Bill 182 this session, based on conversations with educators and law enforcement.

“While we have been disappointed by the divisive and inaccurate rhetoric around this bill, we remain committed to lifting up the voices of students and families who have faced the consequences of harsh discipline tactics,” according to the statement first obtained by Colorado Politics. “We remain committed to engaging in a collaborative process of finding solutions that work for all parties, and we look forward to building schools that are safe for all students. We encourage schools and law enforcement to work with us to ensure that students are centered as we continue to work towards a safer, more equitable education system.”

The bill was introduced on March 12 and was scheduled to be heard by the Senate Education Hearing on Wednesday.

The bill would have standardized reporting methods for school districts and charter schools to report disproportionate discipline data to state and federal departments of education. The bill also would have required each school district and institute charter school to report the specific action taken in response to each discipline violation.

Moreover, the legislation would have prevented law enforcement officers from arresting students, as well as issuing a summons, ticket or notice requiring a student to go to court or a police station for certain minor offenses and conduct.

School resource officers or cops would have been barred from handcuffing an elementary school student. The bill, if passed and signed by the governor, would have required school districts to adopt policies for the selection of school resource officers and create an evaluation process.

Buckner and Herod noted the from 2014 to 2020 more than 38,000 K-12 students were ticketed or arrested in Colorado, and the majority of those cases were for non-violent offenses such as smoking or drinking alcohol.

“We’re not talking about felonies — we’re talking about small things, like a kid having trouble at home, who experiments with marijuana or tobacco, or a student with autism who struggles to calm down,” they stated.

While the bill would have required a $183,134 increase next year for the Colorado Department of Education, it could have reduced the appropriation to the court system by $604,867, according to legislative analysts.

Buckner is began her career as a speech and language therapist, and her college degree in education, before a career in medical sales. Her late husband, former legislator John Buckner, was a legendary educator.

“We wrote SB21-182 to help move our state towards what we have heard law enforcement and school resource officers have said all along — school districts and law enforcement should be partners, school and community-based alternatives to criminal justice involvement should be utilized where safely possible, and tickets and arrests should be used as a last resort,” Herod and Buckner said. “We intended to lift up strong school resource officers that are working with students every day through restorative justice programs, and not to prevent SROs in schools. We did not create ‘free zones’ where students are free from disciplinary action.

“And we strongly believe that a more balanced, collaborative approach between schools and law enforcement will lead to stronger, safer, healthier schools where every child can reach their full potential.”

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