LANSING, Mich. (Jan. 28, 2021) — Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo) today introduced the Strong Attendance for Every Student (SAFE) Act to promote equity in school discipline and attendance policies.
Senate Bill 68 would create universal definitions for “truant” and “chronically absent,” and prohibit suspension or expulsion as punishment for a student’s absence from school.
“When I introduced this legislation in 2020, I heard positive feedback from people who agreed that our state’s response to students missing school should not be to punish them by kicking them out of school longer,” Sen. McCann said. “Our goal is to keep kids in school and end the school-to-prison pipeline. There are a lot of things that may be going on in a student’s life that can cause them to be chronically absent. If we want every child to succeed, we have to update our discipline policies to prevent disparities that already exist in our society from entering the classroom.”
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.
Sen. McCann also introduced Senate Bill 69 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 initial introduction of the SAFE Student Act in 2020 represented a bold push to our legislators, educators, and parents in proclaiming support and accountability for students’ rights. This year, with its reintroduction, the focus will still remain on ensuring a more safe and equitable learning environment for all students to thrive — 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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