The Detroit Free Press reports that the Michigan State Board of Education approved a resolution that calls on school districts to rethink their zero tolerance policies as part of an effort to reduce the number of students who are being suspended or expelled for incidents that are not covered under state law.
The only dissension came from Board member Richard Zeile, who said he supported the steps the Board was urging school districts to take, but not the rationale in the resolution. Mr. Zeile particularly disagreed with the language that says there is mounting evidence “that suggests safety can be maintained, and educational outcomes can be improved, by reducing the number of student suspensions and expulsions.” “Where is this mounting body of evidence?” Zeile questioned.
However, other Board members said there is plenty of evidence demonstrating that programs like restorative justice and using in-school suspensions as alternative discipline strategies work.
Nancy Danhof, Board Secretary, tried to come up with language that would appease Zeile, but Zeile’s suggestion that a short statement urging school districts to adopt alternative discipline programs was deemed too weak. Board President John Austin said the resolution needs to be strong. “I don’t think we can wordsmith this down,” he said.
The Board action came the same day the Board learned Representative Thomas Stallworth, D-Detroit, introduced legislation that would remove student assault, gross misdemeanors, and other behavioral incidents from the list of incidents that can get a student suspended.
Rep. Stallworth’s legislation would also require that districts provide documentation of their efforts to address behavior issues prior to suspension, require suspended students be referred to the Michigan Department of Community Health (DCH) for a behavior assessment, and remove language in the current law that limits when parents can petition to have their suspended students reinstated to school. Districts also would be required to make a concerted effort to use alternative approaches to suspending students.
Rep. Stallworth said he is passionate about the issue because of the correlation between lost days of school with kids falling behind and dropping out. “The increasing inclination to suspend students rather than use other constructive methods … is putting them on a path of failure,” he said.
Source: The Detroit Free Press, 6/12/12, By Lori Higgins
[Editor's Note: In February 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Denver Post, which reported that Colorado legislators were seeking to reform school discipline and eliminate "zero tolerance" policies. A state legislative task force had heard testimony, and in the fall of 2011, began drafting Senate Bill 46, after leading a series of stakeholder meetings on school discipline issues.]