DENVER — Legislators are analyzing how Colorado schools punish students in order to determine whether changes are needed to policies they say lead to thousands of youth being unnecessarily sent to law enforcement each year.

A panel created by the Legislature this year will begin meeting Monday to look at schools' zero-tolerance policies, some of which were created after the Columbine High School shootings and gang violence in 1993, during the so-called "Summer of Violence."

Republican Rep. B.J. Nikkel, one of the lawmakers on the school discipline panel, said some of the rules implemented after high-profile cases of youth violence have led to the "over-criminalization" of students who get in trouble for minor offenses.

"I think it's proven problematic, these zero-tolerance policies," she said.

Nikkel said students can face expulsion for bringing a toy gun to school and fighting can prompt criminal charges.

Lawmakers say about 100,000 students have been referred to police during the last decade after getting in trouble in school.

Nikkel said law enforcement officers sometimes feel shackled by the policies because they're left with little discretion on how to deal with problem students.

The panel will hold several meetings to review school discipline trends and policies in the state and nationwide and listen to public testimony.

Democratic Sen. Linda Newell said some ideas for legislation might materialize from the panels' meetings, but local governments can also set policy changes.

Newell called some of the zero-tolerance rules "regimented" and said that policies have gone too far.

"Kids are walking out with criminal records out of school unnecessarily," she said.


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