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ACLU of Michigan Urges DPS Officials to End Suspensions of High-School Football Players

DETROIT – Citing potential constitutional violations, the ACLU of Michigan is urging Detroit Public Schools officials to rescind the mass school suspensions imposed this week on the football teams for Martin Luther King Jr. and Cody high schools in the wake of a post-game brawl.

"In suspending all of the players from both schools, including those who were not involved in the altercation and those who weren't even at the field, the Detroit Public Schools district is penalizing these young men for simply being on a team roster," said Mark Fancher, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan Racial Justice Project, who today sent a letter to DPS calling for the suspensions to be lifted. "These young men deserve due process, which can only be determined by a thorough investigation into the incident, not by knee-jerk punishment."

According to reports, all of the players on each team—even players who didn't actually attend the game—were hit with a three-day suspension. Originally, King High was also forced to forfeit their scheduled city championship matchup against Cass Tech, but DPS emergency manager Darnell Earley announced yesterday that he was allowing King to play the game.

Although the title-game suspension has been lifted for most of King's players, the school suspensions for both teams' rosters reportedly remain in place.

While agreeing with the need for disciplinary measures in the aftermath of the postgame fight last week between some players from King and Cody, the ACLU in its letter warns against suspending players "who were in no way culpable."

"It's one thing to punish every member of a football team for the acts of a few by preventing them from playing in a championship football game – a collective punishment that Mr. Earley apparently regards as an excessive penalty," the ACLU letter read. "It's much worse to collectively punish innocent football players for the acts of others by preventing them from attending classes."

Although the letter notes that the school suspensions are unfair, it does hail the district's announcement that suspended players will participate in a restorative practices program. Restorative practices require offenders to actively attempt to make amends for their misdeeds.

"While students who participate in restorative practices often find it to be substantially more difficult than suspensions, the process has also proven to be more effective in driving home the lessons that need to be learned and in changing student behavior," the letter reads.

The letter comes as part of ongoing efforts by community members to fight the blanket school suspensions. The Detroit school board, whose authority is superseded by the EM, voted to allow King to play in the title game even before Earley's decision.

King players deemed to be aggressors in the fight with Cody will still be forced to miss the championship game. Cody players will be barred from playing in the first game of next season. In addition to participating in restorative justice programs, both football teams are on probation for one year and must forfeit their 2016 preseason scrimmages. 

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