Safe and Supportive Schools

Issues related to student discipline and school safety are critical to the daily operation of the school district and have a significant impact on a board’s efforts to improve academic achievement. The learning environment must be safe, secure and free from disruption for teaching and learning to occur. At the same time, it is important to remember that the rights of school officials to adopt and enforce reasonable rules of student conduct are not unlimited. Certain constitutional, statutory and regulatory laws protect students from arbitrary and unreasonable discipline. It is also important to remember that parents and students often form their strongest impressions of a school’s climate from policies and regulations established by the board and administration. It is up to a school board to establish a positive culture and climate in its district.

To provide a learning environment that is safe, conducive to the learning process and free from unnecessary disruption, state law requires school boards to adopt and implement a safe schools plan. [C.R.S. § 22-32-109.1.] As a starting point, boards must adopt a mission statement for the district that includes making safety a priority and also adopt a student conduct and discipline code. Each local board must also adopt a crisis management policy and approve the district’s overall safety plan. In addition, local boards are responsible, to the extent possible, for developing written agreements with law enforcement officials, the juvenile justice system and social services to keep each school environment safe.

A Board's Role in Student Discipline

Enforcement of a board’s student conduct and discipline code is generally an administrative function carried out by the building principal or classroom teachers. A board’s student discipline policies are sometimes challenged in court, but the courts will generally defer to the decisions of school officials in enacting rules of conduct if the rule relates to legitimate school concerns, such as avoiding disruption, maintaining a safe school environment or promoting learning. However, if the application of the rule infringes on the constitutional rights of a student, it will be judged by a higher standard, generally balancing the student’s and the school’s interest.

In addition to policy development, a board may become involved in student discipline when it is necessary to expel a student from school. In many districts, boards have delegated authority to an administrator or third party to hear the expulsion case. However, even when such authority is delegated, the student must be provided an opportunity to appeal the expulsion decision. In those cases, a board acts as an impartial decision-maker, listening to the recommendations of the administration and the defense of the student. All parties, including the board, are often represented by legal counsel during the proceeding.