How do we teach our students to learn from poor decisions? For years, the answer has been by kicking them out of school and cutting them off from further learning. But now, a package of bills approved by the Michigan House of Representatives seeks to change that by implementing restorative practices statewide.
There is an expulsion epidemic in this state. During the 2014-2015 school year, 1,347 students were expelled from public school. That’s nearly 1 in every 1,000 students in the state. Of those, the median number of days out of school was 157 – nearly an entire school year.
When the average person thinks of expulsions, they assume the misbehaving student was violent, brought a weapon to school, or did something else equally offensive. However, a recent survey say that’s simply not the case. Here’s the breakdown:
- Possession of a firearm: 28; Possession of some other weapon: 212
- Physical violence with injury: 78; without injury: 179
- Bomb threats: 19; arson: 12
- Illicit drug use: 264; Alcohol use: 14; Tobacco use: 12
- “Prohibited behaviors” including insubordination, defiance, disruption, truancy, and absenteeism: 529 expulsions
That’s right our answer to a student refusing to go to school is to kick them out of school. We give them what they want!
Over 1/3 of all expulsions in Michigan last year had nothing to do with drugs, guns, or violence. They were just for acting out.
Prohibited behaviors also includes many forms of bullying. Researchers say expulsion isn’t an effective way to change a bully’s behavior. Deborah Temkin, a researcher with Child Trends in Bethesda, Md., told USA Today:
“[Kicking out the abusers doesn’t] “address the underlying issues. . . . They come back angrier than they were before, potentially putting the child they were bullying at even higher risk.”
Ross Ellis, founder and CEO of Stomp Out Bullying, added:
“Parents need to understand that the bully needs help as much as the victim.”
To better address the problem, the Michigan House of Representatives has passed a set a bipartisan package of bills (HB 5618-5621) that will require schools to consider several factors before issuing a suspension or expulsion, except where automatic expulsion is required by national Zero Tolerance laws. If the bills become law, school administrators will be required to consider:
- The student’s age,
- The student’s disciplinary history,
- Any disabilities the student has,
- Whether any student or staff member’s safety was threatened,
- Whether to use restorative practices,
- Whether a lesser intervention would properly address the behavior.
These factors will give administrators a lot more discretion to tailor a consequence to suit a student’s behavior. It will help students like DaQuann Harrison, who was expelled after he brought a knife and BB gun to school to fight back against bullies he heard had were planning to attack him. He was expelled for 180 days. He told the House Education Committee:
“I wish lesser interventions had been considered — including counseling, more resources, shorter-term suspensions.”
House Bill 5619 would require school administrators to consider restorative practices as a first resort in interpersonal conflicts and other non-threatening behaviors. If the victim is willing, this face-to-face conference will allow both sides to air their feelings, accept responsibility, and impose consequences like community service, apologies, and restitution payments.
Restorative practices provides an important alternative to expulsion. While it must be handled carefully in cases with power imbalances, it can empower victims and provide necessary services to students who may be acting out as a result of larger problems at home and in school.
By approving these bills, the Michigan House of Representatives has taken an important step toward discipline that educates, not just punishes. In the words of Peri Stone-Palmquist, the executive director of the Student Advocacy Center:
“Our current school code sends the message that we don’t care enough to teach our students to learn from their mistakes. . . . [Expulsion] has a devastating impact on thousands and thousands of Michigan students. We must do better.”
Lisa J. Schmidt is a school law attorney at Schmidt Law Services, PLLC, in Ferndale, Michigan. She represents students in suspension and expulsion hearings. If your student is facing discipline, contact Schmidt Law Services today for a free consultation.