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Students and parents meet with DPS superintendent to help end the 'school to jail pipeline'

"Students are feeling criminalized and marginalized in their schools rather than supported," said Jake Cousins, with Padres & Jóvenes Unidos. Denver Public Schools wants to work to change that.

For years, Padres & Jóvenes Unidos has been working to eliminate the school to jail pipeline, which flags kids for punishment instead of offering them help. 

On Thursday, the advocacy organization took their case to Denver Public Schools superintendent Susana Cordova. The organization said it wants more counselors and less law enforcement in schools. 

"Students are feeling criminalized and marginalized in their schools rather than supported," said Jake Cousins with Padres & Jóvenes Unidos.

A part of that marginalization, he said, happens through suspensions and expulsions.

Denver Public Schools spokeswoman Anna Alejo agrees, more work needs to be done but also pointed 9NEWS to the numbers.

The Data

Ten years ago, the district had more than 10,000 suspensions and 200 expulsions a year. Alejo said that has dropped to about 4,000 suspensions and under 50 expulsions a year. All this, while the number of students has grown greatly.

Cousins sees the same decrease, but said parents and students are reporting a different approach.

"We talk to parents and they do talk about how their students have been asked to leave or put on these contracts that make it impossible for them to attend school," he explained. "And then they are sort of transferred out of that school or pushed out of that school rather than a formalized expulsion."

Instead of counting them as expulsions, Cousins said parents and students are just intimidated out of their schools and into alternative schools without the expulsion record.

Because of this, Padres & Jóvenes Unidos has a list of demands for the district, starting with a district-wide audit of discipline data. 

List of Demands from Padres & Jóvenes Unidos

  1. Conduct an independent district-wide audit of discipline data, the Department Of Safety, SRO program and pushout practices.
  2. Establish central oversight to end underground pushout by August 2019.
  3. End the SRO program by 2020.
  4. Disarm and defund the Department Of Safety.
  5. Mandate placement of a full time restorative justice coordinator and school improvement plans at schools that habitually rely on punitive discipline practices.
  6. Establish an independent oversight board to review community complaints made up of students, parents and community members.
  7. Reduce the student-to-counselor and student-to-mental health staff ratios to those recommended by the appropriate professional associations.
  8. Protect immigrant students from ICE’s intrusion into our schools.

The response from Denver Public Schools

Alejo said Denver Public Schools has two major initiatives to address this:

  1. We’re expanding our focus on culturally responsive education which addresses the bias that contributes to disparities.
  2. We are continuing our restorative practices training to reduce out-of-school suspensions.

A Thursday meeting with parents, students, advocacy groups and DPS leadership was the first of its kind for Superintendent Susana Cordova. 

"We’re excited for the opportunity to start this work with the new superintendent,” Cousins said. 

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