Student rights, zero-tolerance to be discussed at ACLU forum in Ann Arbor
A community event Monday will aim to educate the public on student rights when facing suspension or expulsion as well as what local schools are doing to prevent disciplinary problems.
The forum is titled “On track, out of trouble, in school.” A light dinner will be served, and there is no cost to attend.
Michigan ACLU field director Rodd Monts said the event is to promote awareness and a sense of working together to keep children out of the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
According to the ACLU, the school-to-prison pipeline refers to “the policies and practices that push our nation’s school children, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.”
“As you go down (the pipeline), the likelihood of the next ‘stop’ increases,” Monts said. “And ultimately, it decreases the likelihood of the student being able to earn gainful employment, support a family and become a productive member of society.”
Studies across the United States show minority students receive more at-home suspensions and long-term expulsions than white students.
Monday’s forum will seek to provide answers to the following questions:
- How can I keep kids safely in school?
- As a student, what are my rights if I am suspended or expelled?
- What are local schools doing to prevent disciplinary problems?
- What does zero-tolerance really mean?
The last question is especially important to the solution equation, Monts said, adding zero-tolerance policies have proved detrimental to minorities in school.
Zero-tolerance originally was established to address dangerous weapons in schools, but it evolved over time to also include, at least in practice, things like insubordination, disobedience, disrespect, insolence, truancy and loitering, Monts said.
“Things that research has shown have not always been enforced or interpreted objectively,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with cultural sensitivities or the lack thereof. When folks are not familiar with how to deal with certain types of students, actions are frequently misinterpreted.”
Monday’s program will include a talk from Monts, ACLU Racial Justice Program attorney Mark Fancher and Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent Patricia Green.
In Ann Arbor, recent data revealed black students compose 14.3 percent of the student body yet account for 42.2 percent of the suspensions at the middle and high schools.
“Quite frankly, they (AAPS) have not done anything of substance to correct these rates yet,” Monts said of his reasons for wanting to have Green address the forum and also acknowledging she is new. “We wanted her to have the opportunity to tell the public what they (the school leaders) intend to do.”
Student rights cards will be passed out at the forum. Monts said he expects about 100 to 150 people to attend. There also will be a question-and-answer session.