New Report: Misguided School Disciplinary Policies Hurt Students, Fail to Make Students Safer

January 29, 2015

DETROIT — Subjected to both harsh zero tolerance policies and an increasing police presence on campuses, public school students in Michigan are being suspended, expelled and arrested at an alarming rate for even the most minor infractions, according to a report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

In its latest report, For Naught: How Zero Tolerance Policy and School Police Practices Imperil Our Students’ Future, the ACLU of Michigan points out how misguided policies and practices intended to improve school safety are pushing more students out of the public education system while doing little to bolster security.

READ THE FULL REPORT

“The conclusion from the report couldn’t be clearer,” warned ACLU of Michigan field director Rodd Monts, who oversaw production of the report. “We are sacrificing a staggering number of our students to heavy-handed, wrong-headed policies that, while well-intended, offer nothing except the illusion of improved safety. We need policies that foster a safer school climate without excessively punishing our children, compromising their opportunities to learn or needlessly forcing them into the school-to-prison pipeline.”

The report found that more than 9 percent of Michigan public school students were suspended out of school at least once during the school year, many more than once.

Further, the study noted that black children were more than four times as likely as white students to be suspended out of school, with 22 percent of black children being suspended out of school as compared to 5 percent of whites.

“For far too many children, especially children of color, schools aren’t places where they learn and grow but rather institutions that subject them to harsh and blatantly unfair treatment under the guise of discipline,” said Christopher Dunbar, PhD., the Michigan State University professor who authored the report.

Examining statewide suspension and expulsion data, the report recommends a litany of policy changes intended to reduce the number of children forced out of public schools for disciplinary reasons. Among the suggestions:

  • In zero tolerance cases, limit the list of offenses requiring mandatory expulsion to weapons outlined under current law and ensure that school administrators’ consistently consider available exceptions to the law.
  • Re-evaluate the role of police in schools to ensure that that officers are present to protect students and staff from serious violence rather than to merely “police” student behavior.
  • Establish and expand proven alternatives to suspension, expulsion and arrest, including restorative practices and peer mediation.

“These reforms have the potential to keep thousands of children out of Michigan’s pipeline to prison and on the road to success in school and in life,” the report concludes.

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