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State bill could add protections to make it harder to expel students

HB 23-1291 unanimously passed through the house education committee and now moves to the house appropriations committee.

DENVER — Earlier this month, a state Democrat-led bill to make it harder for a school to expel a student failed in the state legislature. Now a seemingly new iteration of the bill, sponsored by the same Democrats plus an additional lawmaker, is making its way through committees. 

HB 23-1291 would clarify that a school district, "has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that a student violated state law and the school district's policy, that alternative remedies were not appropriate, and that excluding the student from school through expulsion or denial of admission is necessary to preserve the learning environment."

It would also require a district to provide all records that it intends to use as supporting evidence for expulsion to the student or the student's parents at least two business days before the case is taken up and require hearing officers to complete a training that covers topics like adolescent brain development and trauma-informed practices among other things.

The bill passed unanimously through the House education committee Thursday, and its next stop is the House appropriations committee.

"What we know about expulsion is that the decision to expel is life changing," said Dana Flores, the Colorado Campaign Coordinator with the Youth Justice Initiative at the National Center for Youth Law. "And I saw how hard it was to bounce back from expulsion."

Credit: Luis de Leon
The House Education Committee at the Colorado State Capitol hears testimony.

Flores explained that she has been guiding a coalition of students, educators and parents working on the bill.

"As a parent, I want to send my kid to school and not experience fear that he will be expelled for an unjust reason," Flores said. "That is such a life changing moment that I want to know that I can work with educators to find ways to support my kiddo so that he can learn from mistakes and continue his education."

Flores says she's heard from parents, who expressed fears about the possibility that their child could be expelled for an "unjust reason." 

According to data from the state education department, there were 794 expulsions in the 2021-2022 school year. 

214 of those were related to the incident type, "detrimental behavior," which the state defines as behavior on school grounds, in a school vehicle, or at a school activity or sanctioned event that is detrimental to the welfare or safety of other students or school personnel, including but not limited to behavior that creates a threat of physical harm to the student or to other students. 

155 of last year's expulsions were related to the incident type, "dangerous weapons."

Credit: KUSA

"One of the challenges that our leaders face is balancing that right of an individual student with all of the rights of the other students in that building," said Bret Miles, the Executive Director of the Colorado Association of School Executives (CASE). "To add all that in, the principal is also balancing those concerns that come in from the parents as well. And so it's it's just an incredibly complex task that all of our school leaders are faced with."

While he says CASE does not support the bill, he does say they're not opposed to some of the components that the bill has to offer. 

"We're not opposed to training, certainly not opposed to getting information to parents within two days before their expulsion. We just felt like we couldn't stand up and say, let's support this because it didn't send the message that this was fixing any of the issues that we want to tackle or that we are currently having to tackle on a daily basis," he explained. 

Those issues in part, he said, have to do with a rise in the types of incidents that result in discipline. 

"The issue at hand is very clear if you talk to teachers and administrators, discipline has been on the rise since we came back after the pandemic. The types of incidences are more severe. And so we really need to balance that," Miles said.

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