An Interview with Catherine Strode
The House Education Committee will hear testimony today on a bill to reduce the number of school suspensions and expulsions of young children in Colorado’s public schools. Data presented by the Colorado Children’s Campaign has shown children in minority populations and children with disabilities face disproportionate disciplinary actions, specifically suspensions and expulsions.
The sponsor of House Bill 17-1210, State Representative Susan Lontine, says the ultimate goal of the bill is to close the achievement gap of children in minority populations and explains the bill’s broad community support.
In interviews with Catherine Strode State Representative Lontine explains how the bill can impact educational disparities in Colorado; and the Vice President of Early Childhood Initiatives for the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Bill Jaeger, explains the suspension data.
What data has moved this bill forward?
Bill Jaeger: “In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights came out with a national report on suspension and expulsion in public Pre-K settings. We got data from the Colorado Department of Education. We had nearly 8,000 out of school suspensions for kids Pre-K through third grade across the state last year. That is true in rural communities, urban communities, and in suburbs. When you look at the data, you see: boys, children with disabilities, children of color (particularly boys of color but also girls of color) in a disproportionate fashion receiving out of school suspensions. When we looked district by district, both the use and the disproportionality were consistent. People looked at the data and said, ‘That is a big number and that is a statewide issue.’ Third grade reading performance (disparities) are breaking down these same lines of exclusionary discipline decisions. The same subgroups that are struggling to reach grade level are also the same ones being sent out of the building, at a time when school makes the biggest difference. There are ways to respond to challenging behaviors in this age group without it being a remove from the building response. We want to be one of those states that does not let your background, your zip code, determine the outcome that you’re facing from discipline to school performance.”
What is the role of the Colorado Children’s Campaign in supporting this bill?
“We’re an organization that uses data to drive our policy decisions. We used data to engage with stakeholders. That was our stake in it but it has very much been coalition work. The Colorado Children’s Campaign has been one of seven partners: AdvocacyDenver, the Denver affiliate of the Black Child Development Institute, Clayton Early Learning, Hope Center, Institute of Racial Equity and Excellence, and Padres Y Jovenes Unidos. That core group each came to this issue in different ways and for different issues. Each organization had some perspective. A number of those groups come from the direct service and community engagement side. AdvocacyDenver, who works on behalf of families who have children with disabilities on a day to day basis. Padres Y Jovenes Unidos, who organizes Latino families in southwest Denver, was hearing these stories from their members. Hope Center and Clayton, who are early childhood providers, became very concerned because they serve the demographic of disparate impact. “
What does this bill do?
“Statute now has 11 or 12 reasons why you can suspend or expel a child of any age in the public education system. It looks at the Pre-K through second grade age range and offers a different set of standards for out of school suspension and expulsion. The other thing it does is ensure this age group is included in school district policies when thinking how to institute prevention- oriented strategies. If you have a child who is at risk for suspension or expulsion, we have grant- funded programs in the district. It makes it explicit that is a permit of use. It’s those pieces of developmentally appropriate guidelines to remove a child from a school building, and, ensuring that school districts are thinking about supports they can put into place to mitigate the need to do this.”
Why do you think this bill can impact the achievement gap?
State Representative Susan Lontine: “Children of color and children with disabilities have been disproportionately affected by suspensions, being taken out of the classroom. Those are the very kids we see the achievement gap we have been trying to close in high school. We want to do whatever we can to make sure they stay in the classroom when they’re little, to have a nurturing environment where they get positive behavioral supports from teachers, to learn behaviors that will make them successful as they go through school. As a state, we spend an awful lot of time and money trying to close achievement gaps with our minority population children and children with disabilities when they are in high school. If we can start much younger, get them to a point where they had the roots to develop their social and emotional growth, that would go a long way to closing the achievement gaps. That’s the goal of what we are trying to achieve.”
What kind of support is there for this bill?
“We tried to do this last year and we got a lot of pushback. We learned from that. We did a large stakeholder process over the interim with teachers, parents, and with our school boards, to figure out why this is happening and what we can do to help with this issue. As a result, we have great support this year. The Colorado Education Association came out and supported this. We’re seeing a lot of support from: advocacy groups for children in minority groups, Children’s Hospital, the American Academy of Pediatrics ( their local affiliate), and early childhood councils and preschool programs.”
Catherine Strode is Advocacy Denver’s Communications and Policy Specialist. She holds a Masters degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Health Care Policy. Catherine publishes Policy Perspective, featuring interviews with state policy makers on issues that affect the work and mission of Advocacy Denver.