E is for Education, not Expulsion

Students in Michigan are being stripped of educational opportunity and future economic security because of school expulsion and suspension. Michigan’s Children applauds a recent Resolution adopted by the State Board of Education that begins to address district disciplinary policies that are stricter than state and federal law.

Michigan law currently requires school expulsion in certain circumstances, including zero tolerance for guns, arson, or committing criminal sexual conduct in a school building or on school grounds.  However, both state law and the State Board Resolution remind school boards that they are NOT required to expel a student possessing a weapon if any one of the following is established:

  1. The student did not intend on using the object as a weapon, or to give to someone else to use as a weapon.
  2. The student did not know they had the weapon.
  3. The student didn’t know the object was a weapon.
  4. The student had permission to carry the weapon from school or police authorities.

We applaud the Board for acknowledging that certain groups of students – students from communities of color and children with disabilities – are more likely to be suspended and expelled, as well as their encouragement to local districts to review discipline policies that are more stringent than the law.

But they didn’t go far enough.

The Resolution encourages using alternatives to expulsion and suspension, like restorative justice and peer mediation, as well as increased professional development for teachers and administrators alike. However the Resolution fails to recognize the vast number of community resources available to assist with school behavior issues, particularly for students with mental health needs beyond the capacity of traditional school counselors.

The Resolution states that “students that have been suspended or expelled have no alternative opportunities for learning,” and the Board missed an opportunity to encourage alternative options to expulsion that would not end a students’ educational career. [They even say the word in the sentence.]

The Resolution fails to suggest what might be done differently when a student does need to be suspended or expelled. Alternative Education options all over the state are meeting the needs of former “behavior problem” students, with great success. The State Board could encourage districts to develop a plan for students to continue their education, even when the traditional school system isn’t working and thus eliminating a major part of the school-to-prison pipeline.

School Boards and Assistant Principals, typically responsible for school discipline issues, need to utilize the alternative education options in their communities and where there aren’t enough available, work with other local principals, districts, ISD’s and community agencies to develop the educational options they need to keep the kids in their communities in school.

For information about communities that have built programs that work, check out this Focus on Michigan’s Communities piece.

-Beth Berglin