- Denver Public Schools has seen considerable declines in suspensions and expulsions in the past four years, thanks in part to rewrites to its discipline codes.
- Between 2011 and 2014, in-school suspensions dropped by more than a quarter, out-of-school expulsions by 10% and expulsions by 9%.
- The school district has backed away from zero-tolerance discipline, which results in heavy consequences for small infractions and can push students out of school. For example, students may be suspended for breaking dress code.
The changes to discipline were part of the district’s collaboration with a local non-profit, Padres y Jóvenes Unidos, to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, whereby students are pushed out of school for smaller disciplinary infractions and instead end up in the prison system. The effects of that pipeline fall disproportionately on minority and especially black and Native American students. As Denver has tried to eliminate zero tolerance policies, which have been implicated in that system, the gap between how white students are disciplined and how black students are disciplined. Black students in Denver are more than seven times more likely to be expelled than white students.
The district’s approach has proved controversial with the local teachers union, which has backed teachers who say the policies make them more unsafe in their classrooms. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association released a survey this May that found that a third of surveyed teachers felt unsafe in their school and a majority felt that DPS’ discipline system does not effectively improve student behavior.
"If a school doesn’t have alternatives -– no system in place for character education or restorative approaches or whatever to work with the students on changing behavior, then reducing suspensions and expulsions in and of itself shouldn’t be the goal,” Vicky Roberts of DCTA told Huffington Post. The district said it’s gotten more mixed survey results and students involved in the effort say it’s made a big difference in their schools.