Colorado Springs-Area School Districts Lead State in Expulsions, Suspensions

By Kelley, Debbie | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO), February 16, 2014 | Go to article overview

Colorado Springs-Area School Districts Lead State in Expulsions, Suspensions


Kelley, Debbie, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO)


Two Pikes Peak region school districts lead the state in expulsion and suspension rates, a ranking they hope to change.

The area's largest district, Colorado Springs School District 11, expelled 182 students last school year - the most of any district in the state.

Also in a No. 1 spot for 2012-13, under the category of "classroom suspensions," was Harrison School District 2, with 997.

The numbers, compiled by the Colorado Department of Education, don't tell the whole story, local school officials say. And they expect this year's statistics to improve, based on recent adjustments to conduct policies and new procedures for handling misbehavior.

Part of the problem, D-11 spokeswoman Devra Ashby said, is that the reporting of behavior and consequences is not standardized or audited.

School district boards establish their code-of-conduct policies based on statewide definitions as to what data must be reported, said Megan McDermott, assistant director of communications for the Colorado Department of Education.

"How that is interpreted beyond these definitions is up to local schools and districts," she said.

Definitions of the categories are broad. For example, "detrimental behavior," the second-leading cause of expulsions in Colorado, is "Behavior on school property that is detrimental to the welfare or safety of other students or of school personnel, including behavior that creates a threat of physical harm to the student or other students."

The punishment doled out to offenders varies by district.

Ashby said D-11 doesn't often use "in-school suspensions" - where students are suspended from the classroom to another location in the school - which is why D-11 recorded just eight last year, compared with 1,035 in Harrison D-2. Instead, D-11 favors detention, she said, which is not included in the statistics.

"There doesn't seem to be a consistency to the numbers. They're all over the map," Ashby said.

Still, D-11's expulsion rate - considered the most serious action that can be levied against a disobedient student - was five times that of any of the other 16 districts in the region. The second highest was Academy School District 20, with 36 expulsions.

"Some schools seem to use suspensions more than expulsions. I would say we don't expel students faster than other districts suspend students," Ashby said. "If we have students who keep repeating the same infractions, they will get expelled. We're not just going to keep suspending them."

The 997 classroom suspensions in Harrison D-2 - defined as removing a student from the classroom, contacting the parent and holding a conference with the student and parent - far outpaced the region's second highest of 169 at Falcon School District 49.

D-2, the fourth-largest district in the area, also had the region's most repeat offenders, with 4,402 duplicated misbehaving students.

Work to improve behavior

Harrison D-2 Superintendent Andre Spencer said his district's rates are not "significantly higher than some other districts."

"Every year is different. One year can show a spike, other years a decline," he said. "It's important to keep in mind it's not about the lowest numbers but what's being done to make sure our kids are safe."

D-2 revamped its conduct rules for this school year. Among the changes, the policy lays down steps administrators are to take in response to certain behaviors. Corrective action is tiered in four levels, depending on the severity.

For infractions such as disrupting the classroom, "We address the situation with parents before it becomes a suspendable offense," Spencer said. "It's helping us identify support systems that are in place prior to suspension."

Another step involves rallying community resources to help errant kids turn around their behavior, Spencer said, such as the Entrada School Based Health Center, which provides physical, mental and behavioral services. …

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