I was Expelled – My Behavior was a Cry For Help

Today the House Education Committee heard HB23-1109, School Policies And Student Conduct.  This is a bill that promotes restorative practices, ensures reduced legal system involvement, fosters fairness in a system that otherwise considers students guilty until proven innocent, and creates accountability for unregulated and untrained expulsion hearing officers. Jesse Rula, educator, parent, and Stand Advocacy Fellow prepared testimony in support of HB23-1109 that was read during the hearing by state organizing director, Ivana Bejaran Rib. Below are those remarks.

“My name is Jesse Rula and I am asking for your support of HB23-1109. Reducing the number of expulsions happening to Colorado youth is something I feel very strongly about due to my own personal experience.  

I was a struggling teenager and was expelled from 2 different schools. I had a lot of personal things going on and it spilled into my school life. I was never expelled for anything related to drugs or violence but overall disruptive behavior. What I wish my teachers and school staff would have known was that my behavior was a cry for help.  

Being expelled didn’t help. It only left me with more time in the same unhealthy environment I was in. What I needed was for the school to see that my behavior was a symptom of something bigger but instead I was allowed to slip through the cracks. Eventually, I just quit school altogether. Being expelled and struggling to find a school that would look at me as more than the reputation that preceded me became too hard and I gave up. I ended up pregnant at 16 and a high school dropout.  

Despite all that, I am a success story. I did get my life together and I managed to go to college and eventually get my master’s degree. I ended up working for the same school system that failed me because I never wanted it to happen to another student. Despite what some of our students look like now, we have no idea what potential they have in the future. Just because a student is struggling, or making bad choices now, doesn’t mean they can’t accomplish great things with the right support.  

Expelling students, especially for smaller infractions, is only a temporary fix for a much larger problem. It often leads to kids just quitting all together. In the end, these young people will someday become adults and if we continue to treat them like marginalized members of society, we may pay a higher price in the end.  

If someone had taken the time to see me as more than a problem to get rid of, I might have had an easier road to get to where I am now. Please, don’t allow schools to be so quick to turn our students out. Give them a chance to thrive and succeed, thank you. “

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