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Changes to Colorado law may keep juveniles out of court system

The 2012 reform of Colorado's school discipline guidelines is beginning to show effects. The Smart School Discipline Law was designed to keep juveniles from going through the court system and keep school officials focused more on conflict resolution and counseling than the strict zero-tolerance policies of past decades. According to a recent survey looking at numbers from the 2012-13 school year, it appears to be working.

The study showed that the number of students being expelled is dropping. In fact, the overall drop in the expulsion rate was a significant 25 percent, down to 0.18 per 100 students from 0.24 in the previous year. The numbers did show some room for further improvement, however. The statistics indicated that there may be a racial bias when it comes to classroom discipline. African American students were four times as likely to be expelled, suspended or referred to law enforcement than their white counterparts, and Hispanic and Native American students were twice as likely to face those disciplinary measures.

The overall reduced expulsion rate indicates that the zero-tolerance policies schools implemented in the 1980s and 90s may not be the most effective means of discipline today. These discipline plans can cause juveniles to face harsh penalties for first offenses, and a conviction may lead to lifelong consequences, such as trouble finding a job or difficulty enlisting in the military.

Colorado's Smart School Discipline Law is just one part of a national effort to take another look at the effectiveness of the current policies for juveniles who commit crimes and make any necessary changes to ensure that the punishment fits the severity of the offense.

Source: The Washington Post, "Colorado school expulsions drop following law" No author given, Mar. 28, 2014

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