In the wake of recent laws dramatically reworking Michigan’s previously harsh “zero tolerance” student discipline policies, a group of eight organizations is reaching out to state schools to assist them in implementing new practices.
The ACLU of Michigan, Michigan State Conference NAACP, Street Democracy, 482Forward, Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service, Student Advocacy Center and its collaborative projects, Student Rights Project and Volunteer Advocates of Mid-Michigan, have sent a letter to schools around the state to offer their “significant expertise in code of conduct revisions, tools to implement the law, professional development, youth leadership, and individual case problem-solving and advocacy.”
“Now that Michigan no longer has one of the harshest school discipline codes in the country, administrators are no longer required to permanently remove students for technical, minor, and unintentional violations of the school’s code of conduct,” the letter notes. “Through your diligence and commitment to “Rethink Discipline,” you can help to reshape the culture of discipline in a way that protects school safety, ensures fairness, remedies harm and reinforces positive behavior. This will require revisions to student handbooks and codes of conduct. It will also require school board members, administrators and teachers to be educated and trained on what is now required under the law and how to best interpret and implement the changes.”
“This group of organizations recognized the failure of the old ‘zero tolerance’ law that resulted in mandatory expulsions that did not increase student achievement or improve dropout rates,” said Rodd Monts, field director of ACLU of Michigan. “We heard from frustrated administrators, parents and students, helped carry their message to Lansing, and new policies are the result. Now, each district should be looking at how to implement these policies.”
Molly Sweeney, executive director of 428Forward, said “Our groups have expertise in this area, and can help involve parents, teachers, students and community agencies, assist in adopting the state’s Model School Code Policy, and grow local commitment to ongoing relationship building, professional development and coaching to make these new state policies work for each school.”
The old policies failed students, resulting in expulsions that often removed children from the most positive influences in their lives, their schools and teachers, said Peri Stone-Palmquist, executive director of Student Advocacy Center of Michigan. “We encourage schools to take a positive approach to students, regularly greeting students by name, celebrating good behavior and involving students in decision making,” said Stone-Palmquist. “Research shows these simple but culture-changing activities can help change behavior and reduce disciplinary incidents.”
Schools interested in learning more are being asked to contact Charles D. Hobbs, senior staff attorney at Street Democracy, for more information. He can be reached by phone at 313-355-4460 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.