Avoiding Disciplinary Placement in the Colorado High School System

Parents preparing their high school student children for adulthood have tremendous hope for the academic and career opportunities in front of them. Whether you envision your child as a well-educated attorney, doctor, engineer, business owner, or teacher, each pathway begins with completing the requirements to graduate high school and obtain a diploma. One of the fundamentals of the transition period into young adulthood is learning problem-solving skills through making mistakes and overcoming adversity.

However, hard-working high school students of good character sometimes get caught in troubling situations at school. Violations of a school's rules that once might have merited only a simple phone call home or a verbal reprimand from the school principal are increasingly becoming grounds for suspension and expulsion in institutions with zero-tolerance disciplinary policies. Under quick-response corrective measures, administration officials can unfairly blame students for misconduct they didn't commit when the school believes they must act in an emergency manner. Such instances of mischaracterization can lead your child to be categorized alongside perennial offenders, affecting their journey toward education with long-lasting consequences that hinder progression and acceptance into colleges and careers.

You don't want a misunderstanding with school officials to threaten your child's future academic prospects or career, but it does happen in Colorado school districts. Considering the immense repercussions of disciplinary action, it's important that you know how institutions handle misconduct and how it can negatively affect your high school child.

Avoiding Alternative Education Placement in Colorado

When your child is accused of misbehavior or other types of misconduct at their Colorado high school, the punishments levied by the administration can be as minor as ungraded classwork and a stern warning or as serious as expulsion from school altogether. Sanctions imposed on students should be proportional to the severity of the alleged misconduct, but that isn't always the end result. School disciplinary boards have an obligation to protect the institution's reputation, and your child may very well get caught defenseless in the middle.

One option for Colorado school districts to manage students with repeated infractions is to relegate them to an alternative education campus (AEC) or disciplinary alternative education program (DAEP). From a bird's-eye view, a DAEP may seem like a modest solution to assist misbehaved students in completing their education or resolve a disciplinary matter without expelling them. However, Colorado DAEPs can brand your child as a delinquent, causing the emergence of unjust punishments.

DAEPs do indeed help as a direction toward remediation for some beleaguered high school students. Still, many react to alternative placements poorly, causing them to develop damaging habits they carry into adulthood. Moreover, individual Colorado DAEPs may have their own unique obstacles, including an outdated course curriculum, substandard instruction, and a lack of quality support services for at-risk children.

If your child faces a Colorado high school disciplinary proceeding, the risk of them being consigned to a DAEP is high. To help you navigate the Colorado high school disciplinary system and keep your child out of a remedial and punitive education placement, you need to contact proven student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm. They have built their paramount experience on successfully defending high school students in Colorado and across the United States.

Student Codes of Conduct for School Discipline in Colorado

Colorado high schools don't discipline students haphazardly. Each school district is compelled by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) to create a code of conduct governing student behavior. Per legislative guidelines, following the state legislature's guidelines. Under Title 22, Article 32, Section 22-32-109 of the Colorado Revised Statutes (CRS) mandates that every school provide a learning environment that is safe, conducive to learning, and free from unnecessary disruption, with implemented measures to ensure accountability.

The student code of conduct at your child's school is your first line of defense against unjust school discipline. If misconduct allegations arise, your student defense advisor will obtain and review the code to ensure that your school adheres to its own parameters of in-house misconduct management and doesn't impose excessive punishments. The code of conduct will detail forbidden behavior for students and the corresponding consequences. Each school district's code of conduct may differ slightly, but some common prohibited behaviors include:

  • Bullying/cyberbullying
  • Computer misuse
  • Drug, alcohol, and tobacco use
  • Student or teacher assault
  • Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Weapons at school

In addition to banned actions and behaviors, the code of conduct will list the sanctions for students. Typically, consequences include a loss of extracurricular privileges, behavioral counseling, and detention. However, schools have the authority to take further action, including:

  • Exclusion: Some Colorado school districts allow instructors to exclude students from their classroom for misbehavior, and the student is reassigned to another teacher.
  • In-school suspension (ISS): Students are removed from their regular classrooms and placed in an ISS classroom to complete assignments for up to five days.
  • Out-of-school suspension (OSS): Students are barred from attending school for no more than ten days but can be extended to 25 days.
  • Removal to a DAEP: Students are temporarily assigned to an alternative education setting, usually lasting no longer than 45 days.
  • Expulsion: Students are banned from attending their regular school for a certain period of time. Depending on the student's age and the school district, expelled students up to age 16 are required to attend a DAEP.

Emergency Removals in Colorado Schools

Schools are also allowed to conduct emergency removals of students in some instances. According to CRS Section 22-33-105, a local school board can move to displace a student from the district's education program or activity on an emergency basis if the district determines an immediate threat to any student's physical health or safety or other individual arises from allegations. According to the Colorado School Violence Prevention: A Legal Manual, an "emergency situation" is defined as a concern that:

  • Threatens loss of life
  • May result in personal injury to the student or others
  • Risks damage to the personal property of the affected students

Any emergency removal must be made in compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If a student is separated from the school or activity, an informal hearing will be granted "as soon as practical" after emergency removal.

Hearing Process for Suspension and Expulsions in Colorado

Students have the right to a hearing to determine formal corrective actions or punishment if a separation from studies lasts more than ten days. In a written notice of a hearing sent to the parent or guardian of the students, the CDE or executive officer with delegated authority must provide the student:

  • An explanation of the evidence regarding the violation
  • A description of the discipline that may be administered if found responsible
  • The opportunity for the student to testify and provide an explanation regarding the violation
  • The right to retain legal representation

A student denied reentry into the school or program or is expelled as an outcome of the hearing will have ten days to appeal the decision to the CDE. Nevertheless, more procedures will be followed to properly examine the student's behavioral situation and future in a traditional education setting.

The Manifestation Determination Review in Colorado High Schools

When a school suspends a student for more than ten consecutive school days or 25 total days in the same school year for discipline related to a pattern of misbehavior or violation of the code of conduct, the school administration must perform a Manifestation Determination Review (MDR). The purpose of an MDR is to determine whether a student has a disability that caused the behavior leading to the suspension or if the behavior resulted from the school's failure to implement the student's Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) or Section 504 Plan corresponding to the federally-established guidelines under IDEA.

Typically, an MDR is conducted after the district school board determines corrective action and must happen within ten school days of the suspension. The MDR team, consisting of school representatives with knowledge of the student, relevant members of the school district's Committee on Special Education, and the student's parents or guardians, will consider all relevant information to understand the possible connection between the sanctioned misconduct and a disability.

If your student child has regular contact with behavioral counselors or other healthcare providers, it will be a good idea if they are present in the meeting. Some disabilities warranting an IEP or Section 504 Plan include:

  • Autism
  • Emotional disabilities
  • Hearing impairment
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Learning disabilities
  • Orthopedic disabilities
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Visual impairment

If the MDR team decides that an incident or pattern of misbehavior was caused by a student's unrecognized disability or an IEP failing to be implemented, the student has the right to return to school immediately. However, the suspension will continue if the MDR team doesn't discover a disability. If the term of suspension is longer than ten school days, the district may order an extension of up to 25 days for students or refer them to a DAEP.

Challenging the MDR Process

Under IDEA, a student, parent, or guardian may pursue an expedited hearing if they refuse the MDR team's findings. The student and their parent or guardian can file a due process complaint (DPC), and the hearing will be carried out by the Colorado Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).

The DPC resolution process requires:

  • Convening a resolution session within 15 calendar days of receiving the complaint
  • In-person hearing with student and parent or guardian
  • Decision made by the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) within 45 calendar days after the hearing timeframe begins

A professional student defense advisor may accompany and advise parents during a DPC. Although it may take a few weeks to complete the process, students will remain in a DAEP program pending the outcome of the case.

Colorado Students' Rights and Program Requirements

Students placed in DAEP have rights. According to CRS Section 22-37-104, students put in a temporary program must:

  1. Continue to receive educational services to participate in the general education curriculum, aligned with CDE standards of mathematics, writing, social studies, reading, and science.
  2. The work or instruction can't be "busy work" or assignments below their academic progress or grade level.
  3. Academic counseling required before entrance into the program must continue throughout DAEP.
  4. A student will receive, if necessary, a functional behavioral assessment or behavioral intervention services designed to address recurrent violations.
  5. Academic, personal, and career guidance counseling should be provided during the program, if necessary.

The Downside of Colorado DAEPs

Getting placed in a DAEP, even if it's only for 45 days, can enormously impact a child's future. It can stall their academic progress, induce other problematic behavior, and lead to students dropping out of school entirely and failing to obtain a high school diploma. Isolation from friends and teachers can also affect emotional health, further hindering performance. Although removal from school into an alternative program is meant as a positive-minded behavior management scheme, it can lead to adverse results.

A study directed by the Center for Court Innovation determined that schools have an inclination to overuse zero-tolerance approaches in disciplining students and promoting school safety. They state that "implementing restorative practices—along with other positive approaches—can lead to lower suspension rates, a more supportive school climate, and positive relationships among administrators, teachers, and students, much better than a harsh decision to remand them to a DAEP.

Zero-tolerance policies also:

  • Aggravate racial disparities
  • Have adverse effects on child development
  • Refer high school students to the juvenile justice system unnecessarily

As a parent, if your child faces placement in a DAEP, it's vital you become involved in the situation to help prevent these negative consequences. While the task may be daunting, understand that you can obtain professional help to assist your child's defense.

Protecting Your Child Experiencing Disciplinary Issues at Their Colorado High School

You will have a better chance to keep your student child from being placed into a DAEP if you stay active and remain engaged as your child goes through the disciplinary process. When you become aware that the school has alleged your child has committed misconduct, it's critical to:

  1. Contact the school immediately and transcribe as much information as possible.
  2. Call student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento. With his years of experience and dedicated team, once he has the details about your situation, he and his team can begin working with you on a strategy.
  3. Ensure that your child is all right. Speak to them about the incident and ask them to write down what they remember, including interactions with students, teachers, or school administration officials.
  4. Collect any evidence you can, including emails, texts, social media posts, and visual documentation, such as photos if your child has sustained a physical injury during the incident.
  5. Refer to the school's code of conduct to get more information on how the disciplinary process may proceed.
  6. Record your contacts with school officials and anyone else. Note the date, time, and length of conversations.
  7. Keep all written and electronic correspondence relating to the disciplinary process and make copies.

It's imperative that you consult with a student defense advisor as early in the process as you can. Once you know this issue can lead to severe disciplinary consequences, including their placement in a DAEP, confide in a professional to help you navigate the situation.

How an Experienced Student Defense Advisor Can Help You

When your student is facing a temporary placement in a Colorado DAEP, you may believe it's not that dire of an issue. For example, the limitations on suspensions, expulsions, and the MDR screening results mean your child will return to school eventually. Misunderstandings like that can lead to the long-term consequences detailed above. You don't want your child sliding down a slippery slope into educational demise and failing to experience college or begin their dream career.

You may also think that school administration officials, MDR team members, and other school employees aren't categorized as civil authorities and will always have the best interest of your student child at heart. Therefore, you may never consider professional representation, believing it to be unnecessary. The rules governing school discipline in Colorado are complex. It takes an experienced student defense advisor to understand the laws and apply them to your child's specific situation to provide them with a better outcome.

If you don't fully grasp CRS education laws or your particular school district's code of conduct, you may feel defenseless in protecting your child's rights during a hearing to decide whether to send them to a DAEP or MDR meeting to determine if they have a disability. You need experienced help when your child's future is on the line.

How a Student Defense Attorney Joseph D. Lento Can Help Your Child Avoid DAEP Placement

Many inexperienced attorneys begin their defense of a high school student by threatening expensive lawsuits against the school or district. Although a formal suit is a potential course of action to keep your student child intact with their studies, a strategy built on litigation is rarely necessary for these matters. While attorneys advertise their legal expertise in courtrooms in front of judges and juries, those adjudicative skills don't often translate into the proven tactics needed to mitigate harsh punishments in student disciplinary matters.

Few have proven themselves to be positive and practical student defense advisors like Joseph D. Lento. He coaches students and their parents and guardians to prepare them for every step of the process. From MDR meetings and formal hearings to state-regulated procedures with ALJs, he will ensure you are not alone during these stressful matters. He has worked hard in the past to negotiate with school administration officials outside of formal hearings and even with an institution's Office of General Counsel (OGC) before a DAEP is recommended as behavior remediation. Even if you're in a situation where you can't have an advisor present with you at the meeting or hearing, Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm can still be an invaluable asset to you and your child.

A professional specializing in student discipline defense can help you make sense of the CRS and its nuances to know your child's rights and how to protect them. A legal specialist in this area can also read the code of conduct for your child's school district and ensure that school administrators follow disciplinary procedures correctly. You don't want the school to abuse its authority and send your hard-working child to a DAEP for a minor offense that school administration officials can handle in a more traditional manner.

Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have assisted countless students across Colorado and the United States in disciplinary matters, allowing them to stand up to their schools and protect their rights effectively. They have the knowledge and experience necessary to support you and your child through a challenging situation with your school board and sanctioning body. Contact the Lento Law Firm by calling 888-535-3686 or visit the online consultation form to protect your child's high school education and future.

Contact Us Today!

If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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