Douglas County School District principals and school leaders are no longer automatically required to expel a student who is caught selling or distributing illegal drugs or alcohol in a school …
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Douglas County School District principals and school leaders are no longer automatically required to expel a student who is caught selling or distributing illegal drugs or alcohol in a school building or on school property.
The policy revision — unanimously approved by the school board Feb. 5 — is part of the board's ongoing effort to update and align district policies. In the fall, the board revised its existing expulsion and suspension policy to comply with state law. DCSD's mandatory expulsion is still in place in cases of possession of weapons.
Passed in 2012, HB12-1345, the School Finance Act, eliminated mandatory expulsions for drugs, weapons, assaults and robbery. Under the law, grounds for suspension and expulsions changed from "shall" be grounds to "may" be grounds, according to the Colorado Department of Education.
The bill, signed into law by former Gov. John Hickenlooper, was an effort to prevent overly harsh penalties and allow school administrators and local school boards, at their discretion, to determine appropriate disciplinary responses to incidents on a case-by-case basis, the Colorado Department of Education reports.
Douglas County School District staff presented the first reading of revised policy JICH, Student Involvement Regarding Drugs and Alcohol, at a Jan. 24 school board meeting. Under the policy, principals and school leaders can still expel a student, under appropriate circumstances. Under the revised policy, disciplinary actions could also include completing an approved drug or alcohol abuse rehabilitation program.
“I think this is a really good step in the correct direction,” board member Wendy Vogel said of the revision at the Jan. 24 board meeting. “If kids are afraid of getting expelled, they are not going to ask for help. I just think this is a good move.”
School board President David Ray reassured district staff and community members that the district is not getting "soft" in its policies.
"We want to be real clear that this does not provide leniency in terms of encouraging students that now it's OK to bring drugs to school,” Ray said at the Feb. 5 meeting.
Some parents are concered with the board's decision. Laura Jensen, of Parker, fears the change will do more harm than good.
"Just one issue with this is that studies have shown that substance abuse increases the suicide rate among teens — which is absurdly high in Douglas County," Jensen wrote on a Facebook post. "Even with these very high rates of suicide and teen drug use impacting kids in this district every day, this BOE is now choosing to look the other way instead of doing everything they can to protect students?"
But other parents support the decision, emphasizing that mandatory expulsion takes away a student's due process.
Under the policy, the superintendent is required to implement age-appropriate, developmentally based drug and alcohol education and prevention programs for all students in the district's schools.
The district currently has such programs in place. The seven-person Team Universal Prevention teaches seminars on such topics as resiliency and kindness for elementary school students and healthy boundaries, healthy relationships and substance-abuse prevention for middle school and high school students.
Board members suggested implementing a regulatory policy, which would require ongoing training and provide resources for principals and school leaders, who would ultimately make the decision in cases of suspension or expulsion. The policy will be addressed again in the near future, district staff said.
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