State Representative Andy Schor’s (D-Lansing) House Bill 5618 passed the House today as part of a larger legislative package creating flexibility for schools when students violate the so-called “zero tolerance” laws. Schor’s bill addresses how schools treat students, changing laws requiring automatic suspension or expulsion for a variety of problems.

“We have heard too many stories about children accidentally or unintentionally bringing knives or other weapons to school and being suspended or expelled. We need to allow schools to assess the situation, intent of using the weapon, age of the child, and other factors before automatically expelling or suspending students. And we need to provide due process for parents to appeal. Our bipartisan bill package will accomplish this and is supported by schools, teachers, judges, students and others involved in this process,” Schor said. “We need to move to a more common sense approach that considers the factors involved in the situation rather than a harsh, one-size-fits-all approach that ends up with children in jail instead of schools.”

The other bills in the package, HBs 5619-5621, add the ability of schools to consider “restorative practices” as part of their policy to address behavioral problems and other situations. This program has been used successfully in the Lansing School District, along with schools in Grand Rapids and Washtenaw County. Schools using this method have seen double-digit decreases in suspensions and expulsions, large reductions in behavioral problems, general improvements in school climate and even better graduation rates as a result of students getting another chance to address their problems and maintain focus in the classroom.

“When we have an incident between two students, there is usually a bully and a victim. With restorative practices, we can bring the bully and the person being bullied together with trained facilitators to address the issues between them, rather than letting the problem continue to build,” Schor said. “I look forward to the quick movement of these bills through the Senate, so these policies can be implemented this fall when our students head back to school.”