Zeroing in on Zero-Tolerance

Over the holidays, the Michigan legislature gave learning communities a great gift–a bi-partisan bill package that updates the Revised School Code (MCL 303.1310).  This legislation expands options dictated under zero tolerance measures.  Better still, it empowers schools to use more productive, developmental discipline that includes consideration of mitigating factors and an exploration of whether restorative justice practices could be used in addition to, or instead of, suspension or expulsion.

PA 360-363 (originally known as HB 5618-5621) shift the discipline paradigm from zero tolerance’s punitive and exclusion-based assumptions.  In its place, the laws create a “rebuttable assumption” that long-term suspension (10 days or longer) or expulsion is not justified in most cases. Where the Revised School Code once required an automatic 180-day suspension or expulsion for violations such as possessing a dangerous weapon at school or physical assault at school, this legislation gives schools greater discretion over the discipline decision (House Fiscal Agency; Suspension and Expulsion, As Enacted).

While schools still have the right to suspend or expel students, they will want to justify their exclusionary discipline by documenting that they considered the following factors in making their decision:

  • student’s age;
  • student’s disciplinary history;
  • whether the pupil had a disability (even if not yet diagnosed);
  • the seriousness of the violation or behavior;
  • whether the behavior threatened the safety of any student or staff member;
  • whether restorative practices will be used to address the violation; and
  • whether a lesser intervention would properly address the behavior (HB 5618–proposed MCL 380.1310d).

Of course, it’s the sixth bullet that caught my eye.  The bill package goes on to require schools to consider restorative justice practices as an alternative or in addition to suspension or expulsion.  It even advocates a restorative approach as the first consideration for misconduct such as interpersonal conflict,bullying, verbal and physical conflicts, theft, damage to property, class disruption, harassment and cyber-bullying. Finally, it encourages schools to include restorative practices in their anti-bullying policies (HB 5619–MCL 380.1310c).

I have had the honor and pleasure of working with Clark Hill education attorney, Joe Urban, on helping alert schools to the opportunities this legislation affords.  In his e-alert Joe explains the legislation and its potential impact in greater detail.

These new requirements take effect August 1, 2017, but it’s never too early to start shifting to a restorative paradigm in your school and in your personal life!  Sign up for our mailing list to receive monthly newsletters and special alerts. Explore our blogs, resources and training opportunities for yourself and your school.

Let’s unwrap this gift together to expand options for our schools and all members of their learning communities!

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