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No good choices for discipline study

Supporters of Senate Bill 11-133 are trying to perform the tricky feat of launching a study of school discipline practices without spending much money.

The bill would assign a working group of the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice to study overuse of suspension, expulsions, school arrests and tickets plus racial disparities in those areas and report back to the 2012 legislature.

The measure is being pushed by Padres y Jovenes Unidos, a community group that long has advocated for fairer discipline in the Denver Public Schools. The group claims nearly 100,000 students have been referred to law enforcement by Colorado schools over the last decade.

The group and the bill sponsors, Democratic Sens. Evie Hudak of Westminster and Linda Newell, held a rally at the Capitol Tuesday to focus attention on the bill.

“Colorado needs to stop getting tough and start getting smart about school discipline,” said Hudak.

She’d used the same line earlier to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and several members seemed to agree But Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, asked, “Is a study the best we can do? It seems we do a lot of that around here when we don’t know what to do.”

Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, agreed, saying, “I would have hoped this would have moved along more quickly.”

“We did start with a lot meatier bill,” Newell said, adding, “We were going to have a bill that was not going to pass.” She said “a lot more time” is needed to reach agreement among educators, law enforcement and other groups on how to reform school discipline procedures.

Marco Nunez of Padres y Jovenes Unidos and Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, appeared at a March 8, 2011, rally promoting a bill to study school discipline policies. (File photo)
Marco Nunez of Padres y Jovenes Unidos and Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, appeared at a March 8 rally promoting a bill to study school discipline policies.

Marco Nuñez, director of organizing for Padres, testified and agreed that there’s a “rough consensus” on the problem but “We’re not quite there on the solution.”On the broader issue, Nunez said, “We need to stop criminalizing adolescent behavior.”

So, doing a study was a fallback position, but problems with that also emerged during the committee hearing. The rub is that the current draft of the bill would cost money – about $200,000 for research over two years – and that’s a potential kiss of death during a session when lawmakers are trying to close a $1.1 billion budget gap.

Newell and Hudak told the committee they have an amendment that would reduce the cost by an undetermined amount by turning the study to a compilation of existing data rather than new research.

“We believe the data is already there and we just need to gather it … rather than creating a big study,” Newell said.

But, witnesses representing the Department of Public Safety politely disputed that and said that a useful study probably couldn’t be done under the terms of the amendment.

Jeanne Smith, director of the Division of Criminal Justice, said, “Don’t ask us to do the research … without the proper resources to do that.”

Kim English, department research director, noted specifically that the there’s no central place to find data on what happened to the 100,000 cases cited by bill supporters.

Another witness, Regina Huerter, is chair of the juvenile justice task force – the group that would be assigned to do the study. She said that with the slimmed-down study proposed in the amendment, “I’m not sure how you’re going to get anything more than we’ve already got” in the way of data.

The committee hearing was bumping up against the start time for the Padres news conference, and chair Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, saying “I don’t think we’re going to have a good deliberation,” laid the bill over for later committee discussion

Newell was happy with that. “Maybe we can have some two-on-one conversations with members.”

She also acknowledged that she an Hudak have an ultimate fallback position – a second amendment that would merely refer the issue of school discipline to the commission without a deadline for filing a report.

Concussion bill debate takes an interesting turn

Discussion over Senate Bill 11-040, the so-called Jake Snakenberg Youth Concussion Act, has turned into an old-fashion tussle over the prerogatives of various medical professions.

The bill passed out of the House Health Environment Committee on a 12-0 vote Tuesday, but not until after 3 ½ hours of testimony that included representatives of the chiropractic and physical therapy professions making their pitches to be included in the bill.

The measure, named after a student athlete who died of brain injuries a few years ago, would require youth sports coaches to take annual training in recognition of concussion symptoms, require that athletes with suspected concussions be removed from games or practice and require approval by a medical professional for an athlete to return to practice or play.

It’s that last provision that’s consumed a lot of time during debate on the bill. As it came from the Senate, the bill includes physicians, osteopaths, nurse practitioners, physicians’ assistants and specially trained psychologists among those who can release a student for play. The Senate also had lengthy debate over sports trainers, who ultimately were included in the bill in a subsidiary role to physicians.

At Tuesday’s House hearing, representatives of chiropractors and physical therapists pitched to be added to the list. An amendment to include physical therapists in a role similar to athletic trainers failed on a 3-9 vote.

No amendment was offered on chiropractors, but that may not be the end of it.

Committee member Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, said, “I thought there was reasonably compelling testimony from the chiropractors. … When the bill gets to the floor I suspect there will be further conversation.”

For the record

It was another day of delay for some key education bills, including House Bill 11-1055, intended to give charter schools easier access to vacant district buildings, and House Bill 11-1168, which would increase the College Opportunity Fund stipends for some private college students. The problem in the House was that Republicans didn’t have a majority on the floor because of excused absences. (At full strength, the GOP has only a 33-32 majority.)

The House did start preliminary debate on House Bill 11-1121, the heavily amended bill that updates state law about employment of felons in schools. But, after Democrats started lining up to speak at the microphone, Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Colorado Springs, laid the bill over.

House final approval

  • Senate Bill 11-061 – Streamlining of special education appeals
  • Senate Bill 11-106 – Repeal of science and technology grants board
  • Senate Bill 11-029 – Reporting procedures by State Land Board
  • Senate Bill 11-101 – Continuation of fixed rate and fee program

Senate final approval

  • House Bill 11-1074 – Technical measure on financing of School of Mines financial aid

The Senate also confirmed the nominations of Linda Clark and Todd Wheeler to the Western State College board of trustees.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information

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