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Michigan to end school seclusion, mandatory expulsion

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley

Lansing – Michigan legislators on Wednesday gave final approval to plans designed to end the use of “seclusion and restraint” in K-12 schools and move away from most forms of mandatory expulsion.

The nine-bill seclusion and restraint package, a top priority for Lt. Gov Brian Calley, seeks to end what he has called “archaic and barbaric practices” that are sometimes used to control students with behavioral issues or special needs.

The bipartisan proposal would require the Michigan Department of Education to develop a statewide school policy prohibiting the use of seclusion and restraint except in emergencies.

Calley said the proposal would reinforce best practices while discouraging actions that could worsen behavioral issues in students, such as locking them up or tying them down.

“What this does is it sets some minimum standards with respect to the sorts of things that would be illegal in a household, illegal in a prison, or illegal in a hospital that would (now) be illegal in a school,” Calley told reporters last week.

The seclusion and restraint legislation now heads to the desk of Gov. Rick Snyder for signature, along with a second proposal finalized Wednesday that would require school officials to consider various factors before automatically suspending or expelling a student.

The seven-bill package, introduced with bipartisan support, would relax the state’s “zero tolerance” policy for certain behaviors, including bringing a weapon to school, assaulting a teacher, making a bomb threat or verbally assaulting a school employee.

“We’re inserting just a little bit of common sense into the zero tolerance law,” said state Rep. Andy Schor, D-Lansing, who sponsored one of the bipartisan bills.

“We’re telling schools that you can look at the situation and you can decide. Was this intentional? Was it unintentional? Was it a butter knife to spread butter on your bagel? Was it a knife you used going hunting over the weekend and set it in your backback?”

A student could still be expelled or suspended for prohibited actions, but school officials would first be required to consider his or her age, disciplinary history and whether the behavior threatened anyone’s safety.

School officials would also be required to consider whether “restorative practices” or a lesser form of intervention would be a more appropriate response than expulsion or suspension.

The proposal was widely supported by education officials, who said it could give schools more flexibility to examine unique circumstances, and is expected to take effect next school year.

“Too many students were receiving drastic and even permanently detrimental punishments for minor incidences or oversights, and this change provides educators with the discretion they need to act in the best interest of all students,” Karen Holcomb-Merrill, vice president of the Michigan League for Public Policy, said in a statement.

joosting@detroitnews.com