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Posted on Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 5:56 a.m.

Student rights, zero-tolerance to be discussed at ACLU forum in Ann Arbor

By Danielle Arndt

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 American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is hosting the Student Rights and Responsibilities Forum beginning at 6 p.m. at the Peace Neighborhood Center in Ann Arbor.

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.

Staff reporter Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at

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Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 6:10 p.m.

Zero tolerance is a failed idea. Administrators use it to help make sure they hit their "numbers" . When I was in school, I was disobedient, insubordinate and disrespectful to teachers or principals who thought their feces did not stink. I challenged them to not go through the motions and feed us lies. I was told by an adminstrator I should cut my hair, to which I replied he should not wear a toupee. I was told by an art teacher that my art project was the worst they had ever seen. I replied, I learned everything I know about art from YOU. By the way, I graduated with high honors from high school, Michigan State AND from UM for my masters program. The right wing wants a bunch of indoctrinated mindless zombies who can recite words, but not THINK. I think students who challenge authority make for better citizens and better students.

Angry Moderate

Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 6:22 p.m.

Zero tolerance is a failed idea, but it's not the right wing that wants to use public schools to indoctrinate children with the State's ideas. Which side fights tooth and nail against school choice and homeschooling/unschooling?

Angry Moderate

Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 4:14 p.m.

The article ignores the rights of the people suspension *helps* - the students, including minority students, who can't receive a proper education because many classrooms are disrupted and overtaken by troublemakers, who the teachers are forced to spend much of their time dealing with.

Angry Moderate

Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 4 p.m.

How can Mr. Monts know that the suspension rate for black students is a "problem", without knowing what percent of offenses deserving suspension are caused by black students?

Angry Moderate

Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 5:13 p.m.

Having graduated from the AAPS a few years ago, I think it's the staff and administrators that need remedial education. The hall monitors played favorites with certain groups of students who hung out in the hall all day and chatted with them-- never asking them for a hall pass like everyone else, allowing them to bully and intimidate weaker students by blocking off crowded hallways and harassing people.


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 4:40 p.m.

Unfortunately, as far as the Federal government is concerned, the mere existence of dis-proportionality is considered de facto discrimination. I'm NOT saying the school disciplinary processes I'm familiar with are completely unbiased, but I will say that area schools have made a serious effort to develop uniform and fair disciplinary procedures. We still see a much larger proportion of minority and/or special education students suspended and expelled. Is remedial education in behavior what's required? For students or the school staff?


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 3:45 p.m.

A couple of things...along with the student rights cards being passed out should be a "Student responsibility card" as well. Second, "Zero-tolerance" does not mean "zero-common sense" Administrators do need discression and common sense to deal with each situation. Teachers are "parents in absentia", so if parents don't like that their kids are being disiplined in school, do a better job at home.


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 3 p.m.

@swcornell: Careful you're getting close to having your posts deleted like mine . The agenda here isn't to promote personal responsibility on the part of parents and students but rather to portray the group of expelled students as "victims".


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 2:55 p.m.

An interesting article about at-risk misbehaving children and not one mention of the people that are actually responsible for dealing with the problem, THE PARENTS!

Homeland Conspiracy

Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 1:29 p.m.

What does a "normal" person ACT like? Assimilate or be labeled!