ACLU Urges Dearborn Heights School Board to Allow Honor Student Facing Expulsion to Return to School

DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today called on the Dearborn Heights Board of Education to exercise discretion allowed under the state’s zero tolerance law and forego the expulsion of an Annapolis High School honor student.

Annapolis High senior Atiya Haynes—who is scheduled to face a disciplinary hearing before the school board on Monday at 7 p.m. – faces possible expulsion under the state zero-tolerance statute after a teacher searching her purse found a knife that Haynes’ grandfather had given her for protection. Haynes did not remember that she’d placed the knife in her purse in July, and it had been concealed since then by numerous personal items in the handbag.

“‘Zero tolerance’ policies aren’t effective because they unjustly target students of color like Atiya,” explained Mark Fancher, staff attorney for the ACLU’s Racial Justice Project. “This young woman is a college-bound scholar, a community volunteer, and an ideal example of what we want our young people to be. Kicking her out of school isn’t just extreme and unfair, but also a threat to a future she’s worked hard to build. We are fortunate that the expulsion law still permits school boards to exercise discretion in cases like this. We’re urging the Dearborn Heights school board to use that discretion and recognize that this young woman needs and deserves to remain in school.”

Although the state’s zero tolerance statute requires the expulsion of a student found with a weapon, state law also allows school boards to pass on expulsion in cases where a weapon “is not knowingly possessed by the student.”

The ACLU of Michigan will be representing Haynes in her appearance before the school board.

Haynes, 17, was booted out of school after a teacher found the knife while searching her purse as Haynes was leaving a school bathroom with several other students during a football game on Sept. 27.

Haynes, who often rode her bike from her home in southwest Detroit to her volunteer job as a lifeguard at the Dearborn Civic Center during the summer, had reluctantly agreed to keep the knife only at her grandfather’s insistence. She soon forgot about it.

The ACLU of Michigan believes that Haynes’ case highlights the dangers of overly broad zero tolerance policies, which impose extreme penalties for even minor infractions. Further, ACLU of Michigan research shows that zero tolerance policies disproportionately impact students of color. Haynes is black.

Although the statute does allow school boards to exercise latitude in some instances—discretion that the ACLU of Michigan firmly believes should be applied in the Haynes case—the organization continues to push for greater reform of zero tolerance laws.

Further, noting that researchers have “no evidence that zero tolerance policies make schools safer or improve student behavior,” the Michigan Board of Education passed a 2012 resolution calling for schools statewide to adopt discipline policies without mandated suspension or expulsion for issues that do not involve weapons; raise educators’ awareness of exceptions to zero tolerance that allow them to exercise their judgment; and embrace alternative behavior management strategies.