Michigan State Board of Education Advises Districts to Revisit Zero-Tolerance Policies

Last Updated: June 26, 2012

This article appeared in the June 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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Across the country community groups and others concerned about young people have begun to push back against the growing trend for schools to use severe and punitive discipline in response to non-violent student misbehavior. Many rural community residents have identified school discipline practices, especially harsh punishments that push students out of school, as a major concern. This series highlights some of the issues in the national conversation about school discipline.

The eight-member Michigan State Board of Education has voted 7-1 to advise school districts in the state to revise zero-tolerance and other discipline polices that exclude students from the educational process. The resolution asks districts to "adopt discipline policies without mandated suspension or expulsion for issues that do not involve weapons."

The resolution, which is advisory only, specifically requests that districts review existing zero-tolerance polices that go beyond what is required by law; limit the numbr of offenses that mandate suspension and referral to law enforcement to those that directly impact student and employee safety; ensure educators are aware that Michigan law provides exceptions to laws requiring zero tolerance for weapons; and implement or expand the use of proven alternative behavior-management strategies. The State Board cannot mandate local board policy changes.

According to the Michigan State Department of Education, there were about 1,800 expulsions reported during the 2010-11 school year. Most of them were for over 100 days, and about 8% of those students were expelled from school.

Michigan, like other states, has statutes outlining school discipline procedures. But many school districts have adopted policies that are more stingent and permit schools to suspend or expel students for additional reasons. 

The schoolhouse to jailhouse crisis has been an ongoing concern in Michigan. The State Department of Education has cited 20 districts of widely varying size and location as having disproportinately disciplined African-American special education students. Lawmakers have introduced legislation that would make changes to the state's school discipline laws. 

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Read more from the June 2012 Rural Policy Matters.