One of the many bills that Colorado lawmakers considered in the just-concluded legislative session would have meant big changes in the way schools discipline students.
House Bill 1210 would have put strict limits on suspensions and expulsions for students in kindergarten through second grade, as well as preschoolers in state-funded programs.
It would have allowed suspensions only when a child endangered others on school grounds. And expulsions would have been allowed only when children bring guns to schools.
The legislation, however, never made it out of committee. It was killed amid opposition from rural school leaders who felt the proposal would have left teachers and administrators without the tools they need to manage their classrooms.
Those in favor of the legislation believe that suspensions and expulsions do little to change a child’s behavior and, in fact, can increase the likelihood of future suspensions, lower test scores, higher dropout rates and the potential that kids end up in jail.
The effort to push through the bill came as school districts across the country have dramatically altered how they deal with student misbehavior.
From Los Angeles to Chicago to New York City, schools have reduced the frequency with which they impose out-of-school suspensions.
The question of whether to move away from suspensions and expulsions has been hotly debated for several years now.
Proponents say that, despite the concerns of critics, there’s no evidence that moving away from suspensions and expulsions caused more problems in schools, including student fighting, mutual respect, and classroom order.
The bill that failed to clear committee this year is likely to be resubmitted next year. Regardless of what happens to it, teachers and administrators will continue to have to worry about their liability and the ever-present threat of lawsuits when children behave badly.
Teachers have a duty to anticipate foreseeable dangers to students and to take steps to minimize those dangers.
Specifically, a teacher’s duties always include the following broad elements: adequate student supervision; responsibility to report the need for maintenance of equipment and facilities; heightened supervision of high-risk activities; or looking after the well-being of students with special needs. In most negligence cases brought against teachers, the duty element is easily proven.
So, the question is this: What happens when the state makes it more difficult to remove children who cause trouble? Yes, there’s plenty of evidence that suspensions or expulsions can have long-term negative outcomes. But what about the well-behaved kids? What if the critics are right and the move away from suspensions and expulsions makes school unsafe for them?
It’s all too easy to imagine a parent suing their child’s school for failing to ensure the safety of that child by not removing a chaos-causing child.
Also, while we’re on it, we know that while corporal punishment is a practice still present in the private school system, it also is increasingly exposing teachers to liability.
So what are teachers and administrators to do? The state may soon limit their power to remove the troublemakers and corporal punishment is increasingly not an option.
Parents in the past few years have increasingly gone to court against schools when their children get bullied. If schools can’t suspend or expel the bullies, common sense tells us the odds of more lawsuits and liability judgments will go higher.
Joaquin Escobar, an Insurance Advisor at CCIG, handles the risk management and insurance needs of commercial childcare and school accounts. Reach him at 720-212-2054 or JoaquinE@thinkccig.com.
CCIG is a Denver-area insurance brokerage with the full-service capabilities of a national brokerage. We do more than make sure you have the right policy. We also help you manage your long-term cost of risk with our risk and claims management expertise and a commitment to service excellence.Back to Resources