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School spanking ban fails, but bill prohibiting expulsion of young students passes Colorado House

March 14, 2017 Updated: March 21, 2017 at 10:51 pm
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Two bills aimed at unruly students got different grades Monday. iStock photo.

Two bills aimed at unruly Colorado students got different grades Monday. House Bill 1038 to ban school spankings died in a Republican-led Senate committee. House Bill 1210 to ban expelling or suspending children in second grade or younger passed a Democrat-led House committee.

The spankings ban died in the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee, 3-2, on a party line vote. The bill passed the House on a party-line vote on Feb. 13.

"I voted against the corporal punishment bill as I believe that policies on student discipline are best left to the local districts," said Sen. Bob Gardner, a Republican from Colorado Springs who chairs the Judiciary Committee.

"The policy of a overwhelming majority of Colorado's 178 school districts is to ban corporal punishment. In fact, neither the bill sponsor nor any of the witnesses could tell me how many districts and which still permit corporal punishment."

Such decisions should be left to local school boards, said Gardner, one of the founders of Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy.

He said he couldn't remember any parents testifying for the bill Monday.

"Of all of the instances of corporal punishment cited, no one could tell me which or how many of those occurred in districts that permitted corporal punishment, as opposed to districts that prohibited it and it happened anyway," Gardner said.

Zenzinger said after the hearing she was disappointed "to say the least."

"Overwhelmingly, research shows that the practice of in-school corporal punishment is harmful, ineffective, and often disproportionately applied to students of color and students with disabilities," she said. "Rather than allow this antiquated practice to continue, we should be leading the way in fostering positive school climates and improving discipline practices through proven strategies.

"This practice has no place in a modern nation that prides itself on decades of advancement in the areas of human rights and racial equality. This is a black mark on Colorado's reputation, and voting down this bill defies logic."

Child-care experts have testified that spankings don't help moderate behavior, but legislators also heard from school districts that said that spankings are rarely, if ever, used.

In the lower chamber, House Bill 1210 passed the Education Committee 8-5, to ban expulsion for students in second grade or younger. Republican Rep. Lang Sias of Arvada joined with Democrats to support the ban after nearly four hours of testimony.

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg spoke on behalf of the measure to prevent expelling or suspending children.

He was one of several education experts who said removing children can increase the challenges for students and schools later on, and that such punishment harms children who most need help with their emotional and mental health.

"We support a legislative action that applies to us in the Denver public school, even though by definition it is limiting our freedom and flexibility," Boasberg said.

He talked about the steps DPS has taken to work with parents and counselors to help kids cope rather than kicking them out of school.

The committee heard testimony that black children are more than three times as likely to be suspended or expelled than white children.

"Black and brown children are no longer disposable in my mind," said Rep. Tony Exum Sr., a Democrat from Colorado Springs, explaining his support for the ban on suspensions and expusions.

Often very young children don't connect their behavior to their isolation, but internalize it into low self-esteem and view school as a hostile place, experts told the committee.

Schools, meanwhile, get pressure from parents of students in the classrooms with disruptive children to remove them. The ban wouldn't apply to students deemed dangerous to others, but parents and school systems can work together to find other options, he said.

Rep. Jim Wilson, a retired public schools superintendent and a career educator, characterized expulsion as a tool especially for rural school districts that don't have restorative justice counselors for families, the way urban schools such as Denver might have.

"In rural areas we have trouble finding third-grade teachers," said the Republican from Salida.

Wilson explained how it worked for him: He would call a parent into his office and say there were two choices, find a solution or expel the child. That got parents motivated toward a solution and he never had to expel a child in second-grade or younger.

Wilson said a ban on expulsion is akin to stealing "my box wrench and saying use your pliers, Wilson, because we're going to take that away."

Rep. Pete Lee, a Democrat from Colorado Springs, countered that kicking kids out of school is a tool that doesn't work.

"We're here to educate kids and you don't educate kids when they're not in school," he said, calling expulsion and suspension at an early age "barbaric."

Wilson commended Boasberg for the work Denver Public Schools has done to avert suspensions and expulsions.

"You're doing things with the tools and the toolbox and nothing in statute prohibits you from doing that," he said. "But what you're advocating here is that I can no longer have this tool in my toolbox."

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