Members of Denver Public Schools’ Board of Education are proposing a change to the district’s discipline policy aimed at dramatically reducing suspensions and eliminating expulsions of students in preschool through grade 3, except as required by law.
The plan, announced Wednesday, March 15, at an event held at Godsman Elementary in Southwest Denver, is a more equitable approach to discipline, focusing on creating and maintaining more positive learning environments in schools and ensuring that there is a greater focus on corrective, instructive and restorative practices in place to keep students in the classroom.
The document states DPS will consider “the resources available to support the whole child, with particular attention to empowering educators with tools and resources to engage young learners and improve behavior outcomes through proactive supports, interventions and alternatives to suspension and expulsion.”
“Our first concern is the safety of all students and we believe that our youngest students deserve to be with skilled, caring teachers when they are learning to deal with challenging behaviors,” said Board of Education Vice President Barbara O’Brien. “We are committed to keeping children learning in our schools, especially at such a young age.”
DPS has been at the forefront of discipline reform nationally. Over the last decade, DPS has reduced its suspension and expulsion rates by more than two-thirds.
In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education shared that young students who are expelled or suspended are as much as 10 times more likely to drop out of high school, experience academic failure and grade retention, hold negative school attitudes and face incarceration. There is also an equity challenge. Of the out-of-school suspensions within DPS during the 2015-16 school year, 34% involved African-American students, 44% involved Latino students, 21% involved English language learners and 14% involved students with disabilities.
“Students of color are still three times more likely than their white peers to receive disciplinary consequences for their behavior,” said Rosemarie Allen, CEO of the Institute for Racial Equity and Excellence, a Denver-based agency working to ensure equity in educational practices throughout the nation. “As these practices disproportionately impact students of color, they also further negatively impact achievement gaps between these students and families and their white counterparts.”
To ensure that the district is providing the best support for all students, the revised policy will include direction for staff response when an ECE through third-grade student exhibits behavior that presents an imminent risk of harm to the physical, emotional or mental health and safety of self, other students or staff.
Before the board makes a decision on the plan, Denver Public Schools will solicit feedback from its broad and diverse community over the next 60 days. Gathering this information from stakeholders will ensure that DPS is proactively supporting students, families and educators. Questions and comments can be submitted via email to DisciplineReform@dpsk12.org.
“The message that we are sending to our youngest students and families is that we are starting early and we are starting smart,” said Board Member Rachele Espiritu. “The best place for you to be is in school. And, that’s where we want to see you thriving and being successful.”