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Michigan Students Spend Spring Break Walking 80 Miles To State Capitol To End School Pushout – emPower Magazine

By eMpower Editors

(Link to Full Article)

On Monday, a group of Michigan youth began walking from Detroit to Lansing to bring attention to the alarming number of unjust suspensions and expulsions in Michigan. Their three-day journey ended this morning, April 23, on the steps of the state capitol building, where students impacted by excessive school discipline practices and advocates working to reform state laws gave testimonies of their experiences in a zero tolerance school environment.

Suspension from school greatly increases the likelihood of expulsion and expulsion threatens a student’s ability to ever graduate and move on to college or a career.

“It sounds extreme,” said Michael Reynolds, YOUTH VOICE co-president. “But when I talk to my peers, many who share my experience, students all over Michigan are being pushed out of school without alternatives.”

When Michael was suspended from school for “horse play” he was asked to leave school grounds. On his way home, he was given a $600 truancy ticket from a police officer and missed an additional two days for court. Other cases students report being suspended are for uniform violations, not having an identification card, and insubordination.

YOUTH VOICE, a project of Harriet Tubman Center, is partnering with organizations statewide national to organize the 80-mile walk from Detroit to Lansing to symbolize solidarity in the belief that all youth deserve a right to an education. One of the organizations is Dignity in Schools Campaign, which is working nationally to end school push out.

Here are some excerpts of the youth and teacher testimonies given at the Michigan State Capitol.

Chanel Kitchen, student & YOUTH VOICE member:
We are not reaching are full potential to success because of harsh policies that are pushing us out of school. Zero tolerance is a policy that punishes youth for any infraction of a rule, regardless of accidental mistakes, ignorance, or extenuating circumstances. Today, at this very moment, schools in Michigan use this policy for minor infractions like not having your ID, being out of dress code, and also truancy, but the original purpose was for harsher situations with weapons and physical altercations. It’s frustrating for students to get suspended, and not have a voice to express their side of the story.  

But I’m not here today to complain. I’m here to acknowledge that there are solutions. The first one is simple…modify zero tolerance. Also, get conflict resolution training such as restorative practices in Michigan schools so that we have alternatives to suspensions and expulsions. If we modify zero tolerance and get support for our young people, with lots of prayer, we will see as a state and as a nation more students in school and off the streets, better test scores, and the opportunity to compete with the rest of the world.

Michael Reynolds, 16, Co-President, YOUTH VOICE:
Earlier this year, I left my identification card at home. When I got to school, I was playing with friends in the hall when an administrator stopped me. The administrator explained that since I was horse playing and did not have my identification; I had to leave school grounds. When I walked across the street, a police car immediately pulled me over and asked why was I leaving school. Although I explained the situation, the officer still gave me a ticket for being truant. In a matter of 30 minutes, I had a suspension and a ticket with two court dates.
These situations occur every day in Detroit. Even if administrators felt strongly about suspending me, I shouldn’t have been off school grounds. A detention, an in-school suspension, or alternative would’ve been more appropriate. As a result of suspending me, I missed even more days of school with a total of five days. When schools have a zero tolerance that can be used at an adult discretion, it leaves my peers and I feeling like we are criminals rather than students. In some cases, minor offenses under a zero tolerance policy means severe punishments for being truant, not having your ID, or other minor offenses. 

Educator at Michigan Charter School (who wanted to remain nameless):
I work in a charter school in the Brightmoor community, and one of the school rules is if you don’t have the right uniform on you have to go home or have someone bring you the right attire. But if no one brings the child their proper attire, the child has to be in the vestibule the whole day of school. With all that our children face in these communities, in their homes, in their personal lives and internal struggles trying to understand their place in the world, I think their uniform should not be a major concern to justify why we deprive them of an education. Who are we to have that right to say you can’t get educated today because you have no one to pick you up to get you the right pants or shirt?

The Zero Tolerance laws gives us that right to do something so unethical to our future leaders, to our education, to our culture and to our society. I consider this the most un-American practice in the education system and it should not be tolerated nor an experience any child should learn, understand, and have in their academic experiences.

YOUTH VOICE is hoping their three-day walk will create change not only in Michigan, but also in schools across the country. They are asking their state legislators to: 1) Modify zero tolerance to reserve the 180-day maximum expulsion for only the most serious offenses. 2) Support schools to create alternatives to suspensions. 3) Provide behavioral assessments for youth with needs. 4) Stop suspensions for truancy and uniform violations.

“The Michigan Department of Education is excited to partner with YOUTH VOICE to address the negative impact exclusionary disciplinary practices have on students and families. An over-reliance to suspend and expel students for non-violent behavior creates significant barriers to learning, and increases the likelihood of academic failure and students dropping out of the educational system all together. Learning from YOUTH VOICE members who have been directly affected by exclusionary discipline practices is crucial in shaping more effective policy at the state level,” said Kyle Guerrant, LMSW, director of office of school support services, Michigan Department of Education.

Students will also continue meeting with Guerrant and other allies from the Michigan Department of Education as well as Michigan Department of Human Services Director Maura Corrigan, who has been supportive of YOUTH VOICE and its promotion of alternatives to suspension and expulsion.