Denver attorney Craig Silverman said elementary school students have the same rights to free speech as adults as long as they understand and follow the rules. He said school policies should allow for exceptions.
“Sometimes when you go to a zero-tolerance policy, you end up with a zero-sense policy,” he said.
D’Avonte’s suspension comes as the Colorado Legislature considers a measure that would eliminate zero-tolerance discipline policies related to violence and weapons that were enacted after the Columbine High School shootings.
It’s a response to cases in which students have been punished for bringing fake guns or butter knives to school and doesn’t address sexual harassment policies. However, Sen. Linda Newell, the bill’s sponsor, said the measure would also direct school districts to consider alternative forms of discipline, such as remediation decided by a student’s peers, in all kinds of discipline cases.
The bill has passed the state Senate and is awaiting action by the full House.
Lawmakers who worked on the measure say zero-tolerance policies have disrupted too many students’ education for minor offenses.
As examples, lawmakers have cited Colorado students who were referred to police for trying to break up a fight or having a replica gun on school grounds.
They also point to cases such as at least two in Florida in which girls, 10 and 11 years old at the time, were arrested for allegedly bringing a plastic butter knife and a small kitchen knife to school.
Under Colorado’s Senate Bill 46, the only cause for mandatory expulsion would be bringing a real firearm to school.