Dozens of Michigan students started a planned three-day march from Detroit to the state capitol in Lansing today to draw attention to zero-tolerance school discipline policies they say have led to high rates of unnecessary suspensions and expulsions in the state. Some are walking in five-mile shifts, forming a relay along the route. A small group of students plans to walk the whole way.
The walk, known as the Michigan Education Rally, was organized by Youth Voice, a student organizing group. A poster identifies the following goals for the event:
- To modify zero-tolerance policies, reserving 180-day expulsions for "serious offenses"
- To stop suspensions for truancy and uniform violations
- To support schools in creating alternatives to suspensions
- To provide behavioral assessments for "youth with needs"
It's not that students should never be suspended, student organizers say. But removing a student from the classroom for small infractions, like forgetting a student ID, is an outsized response, they say.
The state is already exploring the issue of discipline reform. In February, State Superintendent Michael Flanagan sent a letter to the state board, outlining plans for a new model school-discipline policy. That policy follows the work of a state discipline task force and meetings with focus groups of parents and students. In May, the state board will consider the policy, which includes the following statement:
"Legal mandates and community safety may require the removal of individuals who possess weapons, commit arson, engage in criminal sexual conduct, make bomb threats, and those who commit physical assault against another. In many instances, however, exclusionary discipline, such as out-of-school suspension and expulsion, has become a primary method used to discipline students for all infractions—even those for which exclusion is unnecessary or inappropriate."
Eight percent of Michigan's students without disabilities were given out-of-school suspensions in the 2011-12 school year, the latest U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights Data Collection shows. Sixteen percent of students with disabilities received out-of-school suspensions that year.
This video, posted on the march organizers' Facebook page, shows some of the personal stories behind the effort.