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DPS committee unveils sneak peek into new discipline policies, following year-long debate

DPS committee unveils sneak peek into new discipline policies, following year-long debate
DPS committee unveils sneak peek into new discipline policies, following year-long debate 00:48

A committee tasked with revising the policies that guide school leaders in Denver when disciplining students has completed their work and presented their new policy plans to Denver Public Schools administrators and school board members. 

A sneak peek summary of the plans were released Thursday. A copy of the complete discipline matrix will not be available until later in the summer, likely July, according to a DPS spokesperson, after the district's legal team has an opportunity to review it. 

According to a presentation summarizing the key policy changes, the new discipline matrix will have more clear and specific guidelines for the consequences students will face for bad behavior.

For example, there are now four new levels of weapons-related discipline, and firearms are in their own category, as opposed to the old matrix, in which guns, knives, and other weapons were kept together in one category. 

Additionally, there are considerations in the new matrix for the level of intent or threat made with those weapons. For instance, staff will consider whether a student pulled a knife out of their backpack and threatened someone else, or if they just had the knife in their backpack all day without showing anyone. 

The committee says they also removed outdated language, and made the policy's language less vague and less subjective. 

Committee members said they had 18 meeting sessions to engage a variety of community members and consider multiple voices while drafting the new discipline policies. 

The committee also stressed they approached the revision process with an equity lens. Data they provided in Thursday's presentation shows students of color are disproportionately disciplined across the district compared to their white classmates. 

Denver Public Schools

The discipline committee was formed last year following two shootings at Denver's East High School, one in which a student shot and injured two deans while they were pat-down searching him as part of a safety plan that had been put in place for the student as part of the district's disciplinary actions for his previous behaviors. 

Parents, students, and even some staff have criticized DPS for allowing the discipline matrix – as the district calls its table of discipline policies – to become too relaxed, which they claimed were not properly holding students accountable for particularly dangerous crimes or unacceptable behavior. 

RELATED: CBS Colorado investigation finds 144 high-level threats flagged in Denver schools this year


Moira Coogan, president of the Denver School Leaders Association, commonly known as the Denver' principals' union, served on the discipline matrix committee this year. 

"The matrix is a tool and we are satisfied that the tool, the creation of the tool, implemented the suggestions and the recommendation's from the committee, it did address a number of concerns," Coogan said. "I believe that there were over 90 different individual recommendations for the revision of the tool. It's important to remember, however, that the tool is only as good as its implementation."

She says she served on the committee after her organization voiced concerns last year about a "lack of clarity" in DPS' discipline policies. 

"I think there's a concern in saying strict or not strict," Coogan said, responding to CBS News Colorado's question about public criticisms claiming the previous matrix did not properly hold students accountable. "What the DSLA brought forward as a union is that it was a lack of clarity so um the same behavior might be being treated differently school to school to school or different folks might be interpreting different policies differently and it was that lack of clarity that we felt sometimes resulted in a lack of clear guidance on how to address specific behaviors."

Coogan and other committee members presented the updated discipline matrix to the school board Thursday night. 

While DPS says board members don't have to vote to approve the discipline policies, the board members appeared largely receptive of the planned changes during Thursday's meeting. 

Board member John Youngquist asked the committee to maintain data collection moving forward to monitor the progress of the implementation of the new discipline plans. 

"I really appreciate you focusing on alternatives to suspension training related to alternatives to suspension, it would be helpful to see that data, also," Youngquist said during the meeting. "How is that resulting in student responses that are producing more productive behavior?"  

Superintendent Alex Marrero also agreed with the committee's drafted policy changes. 

"I want to thank you and your team," Marrero told the committee Thursday. 

The East High School Parents Safety Group, a parent-led activist group that formed following the shootings at East High last year, and has been outspoken against the district's policies, said Thursday afternoon in a written statement, "we, P-SAG, have no comment at this point in time regarding the updated Discipline Matrix. We hope DPS honored its commitment to the community when it agreed to utilize Harvard University's P.E.L.P. program to create a new matrix. They later added an overview committee to review the PELP matrix. With DPS' silence, it has been difficult to know how they were going to evolve.  We remain optimistic that DPS will immediately prioritize safety."

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