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Opinion: Let’s revisit discipline for school-aged children

| Apr 9, 2021 | Juvenile Crime

A strong and persistently glaring spotlight has unquestionably been shining on acting-up juveniles in recent years, especially in schools spanning Colorado and the rest of the country.

That uber-focus has been noted by many criminal law commentators. One authoritative Colorado legal source on adolescent involvement in the criminal justice system notes that “prosecutors and judges take juvenile cases more seriously than they ever have before.”

Too seriously, stress two Colorado legislators, especially in the academic realm. State Senator Janet Buckner and State Rep. Leslie Herod contend that misbehaving young students are in far too many instances bypassing the principal’s office and interacting directly with the penal system.

The lawmakers cite a litany of downsides linked with that, for both the offenders, other students and the larger community.

Kids have always pushed boundaries and occasionally crossed lines at school. They get into fights. They steal notebooks. They sneak cigarettes in the bathroom. They skip class.

Buckner and Herod prominently note that, underscoring such behaviors as “normal kid things.”

Parents reading this post can likely close their eyes and harken back to a score of similar things they did when young. And they remember that such escapades typically garnered them a stern warning from the principal or a particular teacher.

Not so their kids, who are increasingly being summarily – and automatically – turned over to criminal law enforcers in direct police interventions.

Some notable stats regarding school disciplinary outcomes

Buckner and Herod recently introduced would-be legislation in the Colorado General Assembly that takes aim at commonplace school disciplinary outcomes and calls for some material adjustments. The particulars of Senate Bill 182 are heavily influenced by relevant numbers like these:

  • 38,000-plus arrests and filed police tickets of K-12 Colorado students over a recent six-year period
  • Nearly 70% of those students “introduced to the juvenile and criminal justice systems” being 15 years old or younger
  • More than 1,700 arrests of 10- and 11-year-old children
  • Comparatively high arrest rate for disabled students

Such numbers underscore a sheer and troubling disconnect in the state’s school disciplinary system, say the lawmakers. They argue that a too-quick resorting to formal police involvement – which, of course, breeds an official and enduring criminal record – leads to “a cycle of unnecessary and costly involvements with the criminal justice system.” The linked implications in legions of cases can be materially damaging for a lifetime.

SB 182 makes a number of specific recommendations geared toward ensuring that schools “use thoughtful, proactive approaches to discipline problems” that promote long-term success while not forgiving truly bad/dangerous behavior.

The bill will be further addressed and outlined for readers if it gains further legislative traction.

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