Continuing a series of programs centered on special-education students in public schools, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan will sponsor a panel discussion at Birmingham Unitarian Church in Bloomfield Hills on May 28 on the rights of students with disabilities and the impact of dwindling resources, harsh zero-tolerance laws and other factors.

“Schools face the constant challenge of having to do more with less, and that is having serious consequences on students with special needs because they require more resources,” explained Rodd Monts, field director for the ACLU of Michigan and one of the panelists. “Through this special-education project we want to raise awareness of this problem because too many of these children are being pushed into the school-to-prison pipeline. Without policy change we are only going to lose more of them.”

The panel discussion, geared specifically toward students and parents, will be held from 6:00-8:00 pm. Scheduled panelists include Monts, Brad Dembs of Michigan Protection & Advocacy Services and Charity Burke from the Oakland Mediation Center. Advocates from the Student Representation Project will lead students and parents through an interactive discussion about challenges and solutions.

Pointing out that special-education students are twice as likely as other students to be suspended or expelled, Monts said it was critical that education proponents heighten public awareness about the difficulties facing special-education students. This program seeks to give parents and students better resources for advocacy and alternatives to punitive disciplinary practices that help improve school climate, and education outcomes, as a result.

This is the second in a series of events the ACLU of Michigan will sponsor in districts across the state to increase dialogue about solutions to these difficult issues impacting outcomes for students with disabilities.

“If we’re to see any progress,” said Monts, “it’s essential that students and parents and other advocates know what rights special-education students have and what circumstances, challenges and outcomes to expect from their schools.”