Pendulum swings back as Michigan ends zero tolerance policy in schools

Jun 14, 2017

Zero tolerance in Michigan schools is out. Now the State Board of Education is working on revising the Model Code of Student Conduct to reflect the change.

Last year Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation effectively getting rid of zero tolerance in schools. Schools now have to consider things like age, student’s disciplinary history, and seriousness of a violation before they can expel or suspend a student.

State Superintendent Brian Whiston said the revision is a good idea.

“The pendulum is swinging back,” he said. “I’ve been around long enough when zero tolerance came into effect. It was put into effect because they thought districts took too much local control and so they came up with zero tolerance and now it’s swinging back the other way.”

Zero tolerance began in Michigan in the early 1990’s with legislation that required automatic expulsions and suspensions for various actions. States with zero tolerance policies have been scaling them back over the years as studies show they have a disproportionate effect on students of color.

Whiston said the new policy will allow schools to have more flexibility with their disciplinary decisions.

“As a local [superintendent] I think it’s a good idea because I was forced sometimes, I felt, under the law to expel some students that I felt probably shouldn’t have been expelled,” Whiston said.

While discussing the current draft of the code – which still has to go through public comment before a vote by the board – some members said while they revise the code, they should try to find a way to get parents more involved in the disciplinary process.

“Well I think anytime there’s conflict it’s best to just get all involved in the same room at the same table and have a solid conversation and I don’t know that that’s happening right now,” said Nikki Snyder, a member of the board.

The board is expected to vote on a final version of the code of conduct in August.