On House Bill 1273 – Sexual Assault Reporting in Schools
It is no secret that Colorado schools are struggling with consistent safety reporting. While measures have been taken in recent years to improve reporting procedures and consistency, another problem has come to light. Incidents of sexual assault and marijuana use have not been classified for reporting and have only been included in the ‘miscellaneous offense’ category. Colorado House Bill 15-1273 proposes to add sexual assault and the unlawful use of marijuana on school grounds to the list of conduct and discipline code violations that schools are required to report. The hope is to create more accurate reports on what crimes are occurring at schools. Today we will look at the history behind this bill, what the bill is proposing and what people are saying about the bill. We will also share a recent heartfelt testimony of Moms Fight Back founder, Heidi Ganahl.
According to the bill summary, in 2012 the general assembly passed House Bill 12-1345 that required law enforcement agencies and district attorneys to report contact with students on an annual basis. The goal was to collect data that would help identify the minor offenses committed by students that resulted in contacting law enforcement agents and in the end, entry into the criminal justice system. The bill summary explains that “Only 74 out of 246, or 30%, of law enforcement agencies and only six out of 22, or 27%, of district attorneys have complied with these reporting requirements.” The inconsistency in data collection and procedures provided limited data. Because the data is unreliable and was not submitted in a way that permitted statewide comparison, the data cannot even be used.
During this time a variety of other issues with school discipline reporting have come to the forefront. The bill summary explained, “Schools are not required to separately report instances of sexual assault in school safety reports, and as a result, they report sexual assault in the ambiguous ‘other’ category.” In addition, “Despite the legalization of marijuana in the state, schools do not separate marijuana-related incidents from general drug-related incidents that occur on school property, in school vehicles or at school activities or sanctioned events.”
What the Bill is Proposing?
The intent is to ensure that “high-level, consistent and easily-accessible school safety data is available to parents and other interested parties by ensuring that school reporting requirements reflect important and relevant issues such as sexual assault and marijuana-related incidents.” A new data collection method will also be enforced – it will be less burdensome for law enforcement and will enable a relevant, reliable and in-depth statewide analysis. While the goal is to get a better handle on the problems occurring in Colorado schools, the privacy of the students is of the utmost importance. The bill explains that sexual assault reports will only be recorded in the aggregate and will not include identifying information.
In an article by the Denver Post, State Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, and state Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Douglas County, said, “The measures would offer more transparent reporting on school violence and discipline while also continuing efforts to curb the number of students who end up in the criminal justice system for minor violations.”
What are People Saying?
The lack of success since the last bill regarding these issues has caused disappointment. Newell is frustrated with the lack of follow-through there has been with the mandatory reporting measures. According to the Denver Post, “Newell and Lawrence acknowledge that the legislature did not provide funding to agencies to comply with the law. They are working with law enforcement agencies to determine what information can be culled from existing state and federal reports and are considering pushing a measure that would provide additional funding to gather the information.”
Passing this bill could provide a lot of value, according to Lawrence, “We need to have a clearer reporting system for school safety. I’m looking at this from the perspective of a parent as to I want to know. What’s going on in a school? How are these different schools handling it?”
The Denver Post spoke with Kim Dvorchak, executive director of the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition about the importance of agencies reporting on student violence and discipline. She is a supporter of reform efforts and hopes they would reduce the school-to-prison pipeline and believes that quality information will help identify if additional reforms are needed. She said, “We think there should be more urgency around this, and frankly, we’d like to see more of a demand on the part of the legislature to produce this data.”
Testimony of Moms Fight Back Founder, Heidi Ganahl
Our own Heidi Ganahl spoke about the issue of sexual violence and the importance of passing this bill. What she and her daughter experienced with their school and legal systems is heartbreaking and highlights where the current systems and processes fall short. You can read more about her and her daughter’s story, here.
I am here to speak specifically to the part of the bill about adding sexual violence to the reporting requirements.
I founded Moms Fight Back after my daughter was sexually assaulted during her senior year of high school at Monarch in Louisville by a popular football player. The assault was bad enough but the way the Boulder DA’s office and Monarch High School handled it was just terrible. I had no idea what title 9 was at that point, or what the legal process should have looked like, but I have learned since then how badly Tori’s situation was handled versus how the law dictates it should have been. And I now know this is the norm, not an aberration. It happens ALL the TIME in our schools here in Colorado. Our family, along with many others, have filed title 9 complaints in Boulder Valley School District to no avail. There is no consequence to the schools in Colorado not following the rules to protect our kids – we haven’t heard a peep from them since we filed almost two years ago. How can we hold our schools to their promise to do all they can to protect our children while in their care?
So the passage of this legislation is CRITICAL to our kids. Critical to us as moms to know how to help our children – and our schools – get on top of sexual violence that is rampant in our high schools. I am SHOCKED that sexual assault and dating violence are not in the list of crimes they are required to report? Why would they not be? That makes NO sense to me as a mom and as a taxpayer. As a very successful entrepreneur, I know that you can’t manage what you don’t measure. So measuring the reports of sexual violence in our schools is VITAL to solving the problem.
And you can’t just measure arrests or prosecutions – because they DON’T happen! The research shows arrest rates for teenage sexual assault are in the 20% range and prosecution of sexual assault and rape of teenagers is as low as 2%! So we need to know the number of INCIDENTS being reported – the new legislation will not affect privacy as it just asks for numbers, not names. So that is not an excuse for not passing this bill.
Please require the schools to get us the data we need to identify and solve the problems of rape, sexual assault and dating violence in our schools. This issue is a HUGE one and burying our head in the sand, and ignoring the numbers will only harm our children more. Thank you from all of us Moms that are doing what we can to protect our kids out there.