Last week, the federal education and justice departments took a firm stance against overly punitive school discipline policies that push millions of children each year into the pipeline to prison.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled guidelines for states to keep schools safe and ensure their discipline policies and practices comply with federal laws.

While school violence is down nationally, the rate of suspension and expulsion is not. But why?

The increased use of zero tolerance discipline and a police presence in schools points to an answer. Like many states, Michigan's zero tolerance policy is so broad that even minor offenses can result in a student being thrown out of school.

Recently I spoke with Racial Justice Project Staff Attorney Mark Fancher about the serious problems the school to prison pipeline cause for students in our state. Watch the video below.

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To make sure that our students stay in school and off the streets, our legislators must give districts the ability to handle discipline more appropriately.

“A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct," Holder said. "This guidance will promote fair and effective disciplinary practices that will make schools safe, supportive and inclusive for all students."

More than 3 million students are suspended or expelled each year from our nation’s public schools and the ACLU of Michigan’s research has found that students of color and students with disabilities are suspended in higher rates than their counterparts. This is true across the country, creating the civil rights issue the federal guidelines aim to address.

The new federal guideliness provide guidance to help districts focus on preventing problems and creating positive school climates with clear, appropriate and consistent conduct policies. 

The Michigan Department of Education is currently working on similar recommendations for districts across our state.

In the meantime, our legislature has an opportunity to make a major impact on student's lives by revising the state’s zero tolerance statute to be sensible and fair to all in our state.


Key News and Documents

Visit the federal “School Climate and Discipline” webpage

Read about school discipline in Michigan in Reclaiming Michigan’s Throwaway Kids 

Take Action: Stand up for a quality public education

By Rodd Monts, Field Director