"There have been problems with 'zero tolerance' and kids have been swept up. Parents have been swept up," said Sen. Linda Newell (D) Littleton. "The teachers have been swept into really being too restricted when it came to school disciplines."
Newell sponsored the bill which became law that allows schools to develop other options other than a mandatory suspension or expulsion after a student violates weapons policies.
After the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, a wave swept across schools around the country establishing 'zero tolerance' weapons policies. Under 'zero tolerance' schools had no leeway but to suspend or expel students, no matter the circumstances.
Newell says the designers of 'zero tolerance' had good intentions.
"But, what happens sometimes is in practice over time, you can start to see the unintended consequences," Newell said.
Over the years, cases popped up like the one involving Marie Morrow. Morrow was suspended for bringing a fake rifle to a school campus. She was on her way to drill team practice with the Young Marines when she got into trouble. The Cherry Creek School District had no choice but to suspend her under 'zero tolerance.'
"Give back that discretion to the schools so they can in each of their school districts can come up with alternatives that are common sense," Newell said.
Now, schools have to start developing new discipline rules which include changes to their weapons policies, changes to their drug and alcohol policies, and possible changes to how the district handles "habitually disruptive behavior."
Under the law, school districts have this year to develop a new plan before having a permanent plan in place by the start of school next year. Some districts have been proactive making changes in compliance with the law before the start of school this year.
Newell says she just wants to give administrators the freedom to treat each incident properly.
"Do we want to look at restorative justice? Do we want to look at peer mediation? Do we want to look at different options rather than mandatory suspension or expulsion?" Newell said.
(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)