Denver Board of Education members on Monday (June 19) unanimously approved changes to the district’s discipline policy that are designed to dramatically curtail suspensions and expulsions for the youngest learners, those in preschool through grade 3.
The policy changes, which were first introduced by board members in March, represent another milestone in discipline reform for Denver Public Schools. Over the last decade, DPS has reduced its suspension and expulsion rates across all grades by more than two-thirds. The board’s latest decision makes Denver one of only a few districts in the nation with a policy aimed at supporting the youngest students.
Several board members cited the district’s shared core value of equity in their comments supporting the decision, since discipline statistics show students of color are disproportionately impacted in Denver and across the country.
“This is a significant move forward for the district around equity, our core beliefs and our vision of Every Child Succeeds,” said Board Member Happy Haynes.
Both Haynes and Board Vice President Barbara O’Brien said the policy will have far-reaching impact. O’Brien noted district staff conducted a 60-day feedback period to gather student, staff and community input on the policy changes. She hosted a telephone town hall in which 4,000 Denver citizens participated.
“The district went out of its way to understand the ramifications of this policy and how to keep other students and teachers in the school safe,” she said, “while our youngest learners stay in school and keep learning.”
Eldridge Greer, the district’s associate chief of student equity and opportunity, said schools are being supported in the policy change with funding approved by Denver voters in the November 2016 mill levy. Voters approved a $15 million investment to help all schools meet the social and emotional needs of their students, a key need identified by DPS classroom teachers. An additional $600,000 is earmarked in 2017-18 to target resources for the youngest learners.
DPS Deputy General Counsel Amber Elias, in a memo to board members, notes “the policy is amended to eliminate expulsions except as provided by federal law, which requires expulsion for the possession of a firearm, and the limitation of the use of suspension except in cases of severe offenses which impact staff and/or student safety. The policy also requires the use of developmentally appropriate strategies to address behavior needs.”
Above: Video created in March about the Denver Board of Education’s goal of dramatically reducing suspensions and expulsions for students in preschool through grade 3. Photo on homepage: Denver school board members, district leaders and community supporters at a press event at Godsman Elementary on March 15, 2017.