Legislature Approving Changes to Zero Tolerance Law

Jennifer Smith

By Jennifer Smith, MASB Director of Government Relations

DashBoard, Dec. 14, 2016

Yesterday, the Michigan Senate unanimously passed legislation to modify the zero tolerance laws in schools. It is before the House today for concurrence with the few changes made, and then it will be sent to the Governor for his consideration and approval.

Under the legislation, House Bills 5618-5621 and 5693-5695, districts will be required to consider other factors before suspending or expelling a student. For years, districts and MASB have fought for additional flexibility when it comes to state-mandated expulsion; and we are pleased to see these bills should pass overwhelmingly and expect the Governor to sign them.

These bills are an effort to decrease the total number of expulsions and suspensions and to keep more students in the classroom by amending all of the zero tolerance sections of law to require that certain factors be given consideration before expelling or suspending a student. Those factors include the student’s age, whether or not s/he has a disability, disciplinary history, the seriousness of the offense, whether or not the offense threatened the safety of any other student or staff member, and if a lesser intervention would properly address the offense. Additionally, the bills encourage the use of restorative justice practices that emphasize repairing harms to the victim and the school community caused by the student’s misconduct instead of suspension or expulsion if appropriate.

As we've reported on this issue, the bills did include a rebuttable presumption on all suspensions or expulsions, no matter the length. We were very concerned with this proposal and that it would move the pendulum in the other direction where schools would feel like they could not suspend or expel. MASB worked with MASA, MASSP, the ACLU and the Probate Judges Association to come to a compromise on the language that we all supported.

Under the bills as passed by the Senate, rebuttable presumption that a suspension or expulsion is not justified will only apply to suspensions of more than 10 days or expulsions and if the school does not consider the factors listed in the bill (mentioned above). Also, for firearm suspensions and expulsions, the rebuttable presumption will only apply if the school determines in writing that one of the four exceptions in current law apply and the student has no history of suspension or expulsion.

MASB is proud that we were able to help push this important change across the finish line and hope that schools will now have the flexibility they need when dealing with these important discipline issues. Once signed, the bills will go into effect on Aug. 1, 2017.

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