LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo) and Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo) have introduced the Strong Attendance for Every Student (SAFE) Act to promote equity in school discipline and attendance policies.
Senate Bill 1028 and House Bill 6020 would create universal definitions for “truant” and “chronically absent,” and prohibit suspension or expulsion as punishment for a student’s absence from school.
“Our response to kids missing school should not be to punish them by keeping them away from school longer,” Sen. McCann said. “When we look to help them and address the root of the problem, it’s important that we factor in the many other things that may be going on in a student’s life that can cause them to be chronically absent.”
The legislation would also require schools to generate annual reports — accounting for student disciplinary incidents, broken down by race, gender, and ethnicity — that would be submitted to the state superintendent.
“That some students are more disproportionately disciplined in school than others is an indictment on even greater disparities in society when students get out of school. When we have the opportunity to break the school-to-prison pipeline in our state and ensure success for more students, we should take it,” Rep. Hoadley said. “I’m proud to work with Senator McCann to get this legislation moving on the House side of things. We can’t waste any more time when it comes to our students’ education and their outcomes.”
Sen. McCann and Rep. Hoadley also introduced Senate Bill 1037 and House Bill 6021 to create the Equity in Education Advisory Committee, an 11-member body that would advise the state superintendent on equitable attendance policies that take into account challenges disproportionately affecting students of color.
“On behalf of YWCAs across the state, our mission to eliminate racism and empower women has never been more relevant than in this moment,” said Dr. Grace Lubwama, CEO of the YWCA Kalamazoo. “The introduction of the SAFE Student Act by Senator Sean McCann and Representative Jon Hoadley is a bold statement of support to our legislature, educators, and parents that we are intentional about seeing all students return to a school that has a focus on ensuring a more safe and equitable learning environment for all our students — especially those who are most vulnerable.”
According to a report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Black, Latinx, and Native American students nationwide receive substantially more school discipline, and harsher and longer punishments, than what their white peers receive for similar offenses. In Michigan, Black students make up 18% of the student population but account for 45% of the state’s out-of-school suspensions. Other reports have found that female-identified youth and youth with disabilities are suspended, or expelled, at even higher rates, and LGBTQ+ youth of color have reported feeling they are more closely surveilled by school personnel, often resulting in harsher disciplinary measures.
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