The Law of Colorado Public School Discipline — Part 2

C.R.S. 22-33-105 covers suspension, expulsion and denial of admission in Colorado schools. In general, the power to suspend is one that is held by the local school board, but it may - and generally does - delegate that power to the principal, who then frequently delegates it to an assistant principal and/or dean in charge of discipline.

Unless an offense is expellable or the school seeks an extended suspension, then suspensions generally are for maximums of five days or 10 days. Ten-day suspensions usually are for serious offenses, such as possession of a dangerous weapon on school grounds, which may - and frequently does - subject a student to expulsion proceedings, as well. Many things constitute a dangerous weapon, but C.R.S. 22-33-102(4) certainly covers things like pellet and BB guns, fixed-blade knives that are longer than three inches, spring-loaded ("switchblade") knives or pocket knives that are longer than 3.5 inches, and any other object that is intended to be used to inflict death or serious injury. This is why students generally are expelled for possession of things like Tasers, brass knuckles and extendable steel batons. The possession of a firearm at school is basically automatic expulsion for one year, according to C.R.S. 22-33-106(1.5), in addition to subjecting the student to severe criminal penalties. The sale of drugs usually will subject a student to expulsion proceedings, as well. Nowadays, this normally involves marijuana.

Five-day suspensions generally are for things like (C.R.S. 22-33-106[1]):

  1. Continued willful disobedience or open and persistent defiance of proper authority.
  2. Willful destruction or defacing of school property.
  3. Behavior on or off school property that is detrimental to the welfare or safety of other pupils or of school personnel, including behavior that creates a threat of physical harm to the child or to other children.
  4. Repeated interference with a school's ability to provide educational opportunities to other students.

Number three is particularly important because many parents mistakenly believe that students may only be suspended for acts on school grounds. That's not the case. When a student does something off school property that affects what occurs at the school, that student is subjected to school discipline. This is why, for example, threatening Facebook posts and bullying away from school are problems for students.

A student also could be suspended for being "habitually disruptive" under 22.33-106(1)(c.5)(II) or for 22-33-106(1)(f) - "carrying, using, actively displaying, or threatening with the use of a firearm facsimile that could reasonably be mistaken for an actual firearm in a school building or in or on school property." This particular section is notorious because kids have been suspended for things like pointing chicken wings like guns or even pointing their fingers in the shape of a gun. In cases like this, schools may suspend students, but they do not have to. In fact, the statute encourages school officials to evaluate these incidents on a case-by-case basis. Common sense is supposed to prevail.

Once a student has been suspended, if the offense is serious enough, the school may seek an extended suspension or may even pursue an outright expulsion. Under 22-33-105(2)(b), a student who has been suspended for five days may be suspended by the school for an additional 10 days, leading to a total suspension of 15 days. If the school wants a longer suspension after that, then the superintendent of the school district may approve another 10 days. This means that the maximum length of a suspension in Colorado is 25 days. If the school anticipates that it will need more than 25 days to keep a student out of school, then it should seek an expulsion. The maximum length for an expulsion is 365 days, but it doesn't have to be that long.