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Student leaders with Padres & Jovenes Unidos attend a press conference in 2013 regarding a new intergovernmental agreement outlining the role of resource officers in Denver schools.

Student leaders with Padres & Jovenes Unidos attend a press conference in 2013 regarding a new intergovernmental agreement outlining the role of resource officers in Denver schools.

Report: Students of color still more likely to face harsh discipline in Colorado schools

Harsh disciplinary actions were less common in Colorado schools during the 2013-14 school year than in previous ones, according to a report released by Padres y Jóvenes Unidos today.

But black, Native American, and Latino students were still significantly more likely to be suspended, expelled, or referred to law enforcement than their white peers.

The reports examine the impact of the 2012 Smart School Discipline Law, which rolled back zero tolerance policies and increased data collection related to discipline incidents. Padres advocated for the state law and for a number of changes to school discipline policies in Denver in recent years as part of an effort to curb rules it said were racially discriminatory and pushing students out of school.

This is the second such report by the advocacy group focused on equity in schools.

Padres says the report aims to help “uncover promising practices and examples of effective educational accountability while … highlighting the numerous ares for improvement and the deeper systemic issues that still need to be addressed.”

The report describes state trends as promising.

Colorado’s out-of-school suspension rate fell 7 percent between 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years. Rates of expulsion and referrals to law-enforcement fell 15 percent apiece. Since the passage of the 2012 law, suspension rates statewide are down 17 percent, expulsion rates down 36 percent, and referrals to law enforcement down 23 percent.

Denver, Cherry Creek, and Jefferson County schools led the way in the decrease in out-of-school suspensions between 2009 and the present. In Denver, 9,567 students received an out-of-school suspension in 2009, compared to 6,328 in 2013-14. Denver and Jefferson County were also the two districts with the largest reductions in expulsions.

But in most of the state’s districts, white students were still less likely to be subject to harsh discipline than black, Native American, and Latino students. In some cases, the disparity between white students and students of color has actually grown since 2012.

Padres calculated an “inequitable discipline risk indicator” to highlight how much more likely students of color were to receive a harsh disciplinary action than a white student. Aspen, Bayfield, Steamboat Springs, Denver, and Animas were the districts with the largest disparities.

The disparities are not uniform across the state. In 89 districts, for instance, students of color are not more likely than white peers to be expelled, suspended, or referred to law enforcement.

The move toward more lenient discipline policies has not been without complications. Last month, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association told the district’s board that lack of consistency and training in alternative discipline approaches such as restorative justice are leading to disorder in classrooms and stress for teachers.

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