Monday, January 27, 2014

Feds stepping up their effort to slow school-to-prison pipeline

The federal education and justice departments recently 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 a package of guidelines they want states to use to develop strategies that keep schools safe and ensure their discipline policies and practices comply with federal laws.

Overall school violence is down nationally, but the rate of suspension and expulsion is not, primarily because of the increased use of zero tolerance discipline and a greater presence of police in schools. Michigan, like many states, has an overly broad zero tolerance policy and needs a legislative fix to 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."

I had a video produced about a kid who was arrested over something that should have been taken seriously, but was not something that warranted an 180-day expulsion, and it screwed up his life. Check it out here --

More than 3 million students are suspended and over 100,000 are expelled each year from our nation’s public schools, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The ACLU of Michigan’s 2009 report, “Reclaiming Michigan’s Throwaway Kids,” found that students of color and students with disabilities are suspended in higher rates than their counterparts. This mirrors the national trend, and is civil rights issue the federal guidelines aim to address. 

The package provides guidance to help districts better focus on prevention and positive school climates, to develop clear, appropriate and consistent conduct policies, and to continually evaluate discipline policies and practices to ensure fairness and equity. 

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 exclusions by revising the state’s zero tolerance statute.

Link to the “School Climate and Discipline” webpage:

Link to the ACLU's report, “Reclaiming Michigan’s Throwaway Kids”:

Tell your legislator it’s time to revise our zero tolerance statute:

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