LANSING, Mich. (Sept. 16, 2021) — Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), Sen. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit), Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) and Rep. Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield Township) hosted a virtual press conference this morning about their legislation to prevent and reduce students being removed from school, while ensuring that their due process rights are protected during disciplinary actions.
In 1975, the U.S. Supreme Court in Goss v. Lopez found that education is a property right and that students should, at minimum, receive a hearing when facing suspension. Senate Bills 634-636 and House Bills 5297-5299 would codify that ruling by outlining and defining due process for students when they receive disciplinary actions that result in suspension for more than 10 days, are provided an alternative placement, or are expelled.
“These bills are about expulsion prevention — they’re designed to keep kids in school and reduce the number of students who are pushed out of the classroom,” Sen. Irwin said, “Right now, Michigan has no set standards for students or their parents and guardians to assert their due process rights. These bills ensure they will be able to.”
The legislation requires that:
“Every student has the right to receive an education,” Rep. Brabec said. “We need to ensure that when a student is deprived of that right because of suspension or expulsion, they are afforded due process. We know how damaging it can be for kids to be removed from school. These bills are designed to keep kids in school and reduce the number of students who are removed from the classroom.”
Researchers at Boston University, Harvard University and the University of Colorado have also found evidence that school disciplinary actions play a major part in the school-to-prison pipeline — especially for people of color — and that students attending schools with higher rates of suspension are about 15% to 20% more likely to be arrested and incarcerated as adults. This conclusion also coincides with the national trend that shows Black students from low-income neighborhoods are more frequently sent to prison or juvenile detention centers due to overcriminalization in schools.
“This package will help protect Black and other minority students who are often disciplined more harshly and receive more suspensions for the same infractions as their white counterparts according to civil rights investigators at the U.S. Department of Education,” said Sen. Geiss. “According to ACLU data, here in Michigan, Black girls are more than eight times as likely as their white counterparts to be arrested. With trauma-informed restorative justice techniques in discipline at the school level, we can disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and bring about racial justice in the process.”
Currently, Michigan students and their families face a severe lack of transparency as schools are not required to provide access to evidence prior to hearings. Notifications to students and their families are often nonexistent or at the last minute — and even though students experiencing homelessness have special federal protections, they often aren’t considered — forcing them to request that hearings be postponed and then usually having that request be denied. There are also no requirements for impartial hearing officers, and there is no defined appeal process.
“To me as a parent, it felt like the district had their minds made up about my son. At his discipline hearing, they didn’t talk about the seven factors — only my advocate did. They definitely didn’t consider all the factors. So, my 10-year-old was kicked out for the rest of the year with no services and he can’t go back until October,” said Kristine Hickman, a parent. “It has felt really shaming, even though I was always available and ready to support my son. Children do not learn from a suspension. They learn from being taught at school.”
“When I was in elementary school, being kicked out of school for more than 160 days created a negative drastic effect on my well-being and was detrimental to my academic success,” added Brittney Barros, MSW and advocate. “I have seen school discipline harm so many of my peers. We must do better. These bills will make the process more fair, more transparent, more thoughtful and reduce harmful removals. It will foster hope for the future of our children.”
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