Schools are tasked with not only teaching the next generation but also dealing with their misdeeds in the classroom.
Striking a balance between removing students who pose a genuine threat and keeping as many students in class as possible can't be easy.
Some education officials in Michigan believe too many students are getting expelled and suspended. The State Board of Education is right to encourage schools to rethink their punitive policies.
The board passed a resolution last week, addressing what trustees called "the alarming rate of suspensions in school districts across Michigan."
Fearing that too many suspensions and expulsions harm student performance and graduation rates, the board wants schools to limit zero-tolerance policies to instances involving weapons and other offenses laid out in law.
Last school year, schools expelled 1,400 students - with more than 900 of those expulsions for 100 days or more. Schools aren't required to report suspensions so the state doesn't have solid numbers for those.
Kyle Guerrant, director of school support services with the Michigan Department of Education, agrees with the state board. He says there is an over-reliance on suspensions when dealing with nonviolent offenses, including bullying and disrupting class.
Guerrant understands the tough position schools are in, especially those that have had to cut staff. But he thinks too many students are missing excessive hours of class. And that can have a negative long-term impact.
The more days of school students miss, the less likely they are to graduate. And youths who don't finish school are at a much higher risk of landing in jail or on welfare.
In its resolution, the board points to growing evidence that suggests school safety can still be maintained along with a reduction of student suspensions and expulsions.
The board also argues researchers have found zero-tolerance policies do not bolster good student behavior and safety.
Zero-tolerance policies in Michigan and around the country stem from the Gun Free Schools Act of 1994. But many states, like Michigan, have expanded the offenses that fall under the no-tolerance umbrella to encompass physical assault, arson and sexual assault.
That shouldn't change. Other children and teachers shouldn't be afraid to go to school.
The board made several specific recommendations in its resolution. It suggests districts review their policies that go beyond what's required by law and limit offenses requiring suspension only to actions that hamper the safety of students and staff.
It's generally better for disciplinary cases to be considered on an individual basis. Even Michigan law allows four exceptions to the zero tolerance of weapons, giving schools the ability to make case-by-case decisions.
The board advocates handling nonviolent misconduct in more constructive ways, whether through peer intervention or other alternative approaches.
But when students must be suspended, schools should look to alternative education methods, such as online learning, so students can keep up with schoolwork without posing a distraction to other students or teachers.
Nudging schools to revamp their disciplinary policies is a positive move. And except for extreme cases, schools should avoid zero-tolerance stances.
- The Detroit News