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Bill aims to revamp state's disciplinary practices to reduce suspensions, ban use of handcuffs on elementary students

Jail Cell
Posted at 5:03 PM, Mar 26, 2021

SOUTHERN COLORADO — Colorado lawmakers are taking aim at what some call the "school to prison pipeline."

Senate Bill 21-182 would revamp the state's disciplinary practices to minimize student run-ins with law enforcement, address disproportionate disciplinary practices, and provide more support for at-risk youth. It would also ban the use of handcuffs on grade-schoolers.

For 20 years, Glenn Truitt has dedicated his life to helping at-risk youth.

"There are homes where education is not important, a lot of drinking and drug use. Not much supervision of the children and they tended to gravitate toward gangs, getting in trouble, and breaking laws. A lot of them ended up in Spring Creek or Zebulon Pike Youth Services Center," said Truitt.

Throughout his years as an educator, he saw many children funneled from public schools to the jail system, also known as the "school to prison pipeline."

"I went to one boy who graduated at Zebulon Pike Youth Services Center. I went to his graduation in prison," said Truitt. "So many times the parents are absent, and they expect teachers to not only be teachers but counselors. therapists and nurses. It's just overwhelming for teachers to tackle all of those problems."

Proponents behind Senate Bill 21-182 hope to help those children by changing discipline policies and offering more resources.

"We know that people of color, low-income, queer students, and young kids are being funneled into the criminal justice system for minor mistakes. Things that kids do in normal youth behavior. Instead of dealing with that in a way that involves their parents and school, they are putting kids in the system," said Leslie Herod, (D) Denver.

According to the bill, more than 4,000 Colorado students were ticketed or arrested for a nonviolent misdemeanor at schools in the 2017-18 school year.

"Kids are being suspended and expelled because of behavioral problems on zoom. That's not okay. Kids are going through a lot of trauma and mental problems right now and we need to provide more funding and resources there," said Herod.

It states that children of color and those with disabilities are more likely to face heavy discipline that puts them in contact with the criminal justice system and derails their education.

"We've seen that handcuffs, arrests, incarceration are mostly being used against children with disabilities and children of color. They are being arrested, put in the back of a squad car, and traumatized for the rest of their life for poking a kid with a pencil," said Herod.

The bill would set higher standards for selecting resource officers and prevent them from arresting, issuing a summons, ticket, or notice requiring the appearance of a student in court or at a police station for certain offenses and conduct.

"I think they shouldn't be handcuffed or thrown in jail but on the other hand you have to maintain safety for the other children and teachers," said Truitt.

He says it all starts at home and parent involvement is key to a child's development. He says the bill could be successful if teachers invest in their students.

"It could help kids if they can build a relationship with an adult that is long-lasting and they can find satisfaction and reward for being a good person," said Truitt.