Bubble gun suspension may prompt new legislation

Posted at 11:15 PM, May 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-19 01:16:53-04

After a 5-year-old Colorado girl was suspended for bringing a Princess bubble gun to school, one Denver organization is working to ban early-childhood suspensions and expulsions.

"You would think you didn't need a law to protect very, very young children from being unnecessarily removed from their classroom and their right to education, but we feel this is necessary," said Daniel Kim, Director of Youth Organizing for Padres & Jovenes Unidos. 

Kim said they are organizing to propose legislation to ban preschool to second grade suspension and expulsions, except in the most extreme cases.

The community group helped organize the effort to pass a 2012 Smart School Discipline Law, aimed at preventing unnecessary suspensions and expulsions tied to zero-tolerance policies.
"Unfortunately, we weren't surprised about the 5-year-old suspended because we get these calls every week, every month," said Kim, who pointed out the organization's guide for parents about their rights if their child is suspended. "When it becomes a habit to suspend for a small thing like that, you can't just change it right away. People keep doing these things so it really becomes a question of implementation."

Padres & Jovenes Unidos tracks school records in the annual school discipline report card, and the most recent numbers showed that Brighton 27J, the District that suspended the girl with a bubble gun, is in the top 25 districts in Colorado for expulsions and referrals to law enforcement.

"These are red flags for a district," said Kim.

But again on Wednesday, Kevin Denke, Brighton 27J's spokesman refused interviews and in an e-mail stated, "we will not be commenting any further on the matter."

Denke also refused to answer questions about how many students have been suspended for bringing toy guns to school.

Denver7 has filed an open records request for those numbers and received this response: "We have received your Open Records Request and will fill this request within the statutory time frame of three working days." 

Melissa Arreola is a parent organizer with Padres & Jovenes Unidoes who surveyed hundreds of people with young children in Southwest Denver and found a troubling trend: off-the-book suspensions for minor issues.

"Our little kids are being suspended," said Arreola. "The more times these children are being expelled or suspended, they see that as a normal thing, so that continues to fit into the school-to-prison pipeline."
Arreola said most parents don't realize if they are asked to come pick up their children at school, it is technically a suspension.
She said parents should not be asked to come pick up their child without a record of what the child is being suspended for so that they can later appeal or protest the action.  
If parents pick up the child without that documentation, they will not have those protections or rights.
Kim said several cities and states, including New Jersey, Connecticut and the District of Columbia, have passed laws limiting pre-K suspensions or expulsions.
"Suspensions and expulsions, we know not only don't work, but they have especially harmful impacts on young children," said Kim. "This should not be happening anywhere in Colorado right now."