Colorado bill that supports students involved in justice system advances

The bill would establish rights for students who are involved in the juvenile justice system and create a hotline to provide legal and education resources to families
Student bill of rights
Posted at 5:00 PM, May 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-02 12:22:22-04

DENVER — Guiding a child back on track with school after they had a brush with the law can be a difficult endeavor. But Colorado lawmakers, parents and advocates are pushing for new legislation that could soon help.

House Bill 24-1216, introduced in early February, would establish rights for justice-engaged students, meaning K-12 students who were, in some capacity, involved with the juvenile or criminal justice system. This includes the right to alternative solutions for general education, prompt enrollment with a local education provider, appropriate credit for coursework that was completed during time in the system, and help with a graduation plan.

Advocates with Generation Schools Network (GSN), who helped create the bill, said many justice-engaged children do not receive enough help to graduate high school. They're now hoping to change that through the Justice-Engaged Student Bill of Rights (JESBOR).

Dr. Jose Silva with GSN said there is an average of 22,000 justice-engaged students in Colorado each year — the size of the Town of Golden.

"Without this bill, it's a number of policies that are just up in the air, and families and kids are just like trying to grab at them," Dr. Silva said.

The bill would also require districts to publish available resources on their websites and designate a person to serve as a point of contact for justice-engaged students. It would also create a hotline for legal and educational resources.

Parent Michelle Villanueva said this is something that could have helped her family significantly when her 11-year-old son was arrested at school five years ago.

"Back then, I had no direction on what to do," Villanueva said. "I did not know what his school — his education path — was going to be. I was very lost and confused."

Mae Wilson, who has been a foster parent for three decades, said that journey is not something a person can do alone. They must rely on a lot of people, she said.

"Right now, it's commonplace to me," Wilson said. "I know what to do. But somebody new coming in — it can be like, 'Oh, how do you do this? Where do I go?'"

Dr. Silva said so far they have seen no opposition.

"Education in Colorado is a divisive topic," he said. "Justice-engaged students in Colorado should even be more divisive. We had zero opposition."

The Colorado House of Representatives passed the legislation Tuesday and it is now in the Senate, where it will go before the education committee on Wednesday evening. The bill would require an appropriation of $291,711 to multiple state agencies for fiscal year 2024-2025.

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