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Student demand change to Michigan school 'zero tolerance' policies

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

Dozens of high school students have completed a trek from Detroit to Lansing to highlight their concern about ‘zero tolerance’ policies in Michigan schools.

The students say violating even minor ‘zero tolerance’ policies may land them on suspension.

16 year old Michael Reynolds is one of the students who walked to the state capitol.   Reynolds was suspended for seven days last year for what he describes as ‘minor’ violations of school policy. 

He says there should be more alternatives to kicking students out of school for violating minor rules. 

“We should have in-school suspension. We should have detention. We should clean up after school. There are alternatives,” says Reynolds.

‘Zero tolerance’ was originally thought to be a solution to violence in schools. Students violating some school rules would be suspended.   But critics say the policy is being too broadly used.

“I totally believe we are engaging in wrongful suspensions,” says Maura Corrigan, Michigan’s Department of Human Services director. She says legislation will soon be introduced to modify the state’s regulations governing ‘zero tolerance’ policies.

“’Zero tolerance was well intentioned to say the least, “ says Mike Flanagan, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.  But Flanagan says there’s no evidence that ‘zero tolerance’ policies reduce school violence or drug use. He adds that, in fact, suspensions end up holding students back academically.

Flanagan says once a student misses ten days of school for what are minor rules violations “they can’t catch up.”

“If (a student’s shirt) is not tucked in…just tell them to tuck it in,” says Flanagan, “It’s not a suspension issue.”

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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