Discipline policies in Michigan school districts have a disproportionate impact on students dealing with trauma and needing extra support.
Students who had experienced homelessness were suspended or expelled at rates twice as high as the statewide average of 8% for all students, according to a report from the University’s Poverty Solutions Center. from Michigan.
“This pattern is persistent across school districts,” said Jennifer Erb-Downward, senior research associate at Poverty Solutions. “Our hope in releasing (this) data is to spark local conversations about school discipline policies so that students dealing with trauma can be connected to additional support rather than being excluded from school.”
Compared to other states, schools in Michigan have some of the highest suspension rates, according to the report.
Of Michigan’s 537 non-charter public school districts, the 50 districts with the highest discipline rates accounted for 33% of all student suspensions and expulsions in the 2017-18 school year, although these school districts only serve 13% of the state’s students.
In 48 school districts, more than a quarter of students who had ever experienced homelessness were suspended or expelled.
The 10 districts with the highest discipline rates for students who had experienced homelessness were:
- Benton Harbor area schools (41.1%)
- Atlanta Community Schools (40.7%)
- Flint Community School District (40.5%)
- Kelloggsville Public Schools (38.8%)
- Beecher Community School District (38.7%)
- Alba Public Schools (38.1%)
- Public schools in Hamtramck (37.9%)
- Eastpointe Community Schools (37.2%)
- Westwood Community Schools (36.2%)
- Kalamazoo Public School District (34.9%)
Flint Community School District Superintendent Kevelin Jones said the district uses expulsion as a last resort, but primarily when there are external factors beyond the student’s control.
“We know how difficult it can be for a family and for an academic, and what the impacts of relocation are,” Jones said in a written statement. “We also know that life challenges can affect academic behavior and therefore, if a scholar faces suspension or expulsion due to their actions at school, Flint Community Schools will follow our process, doing whatever we can to help this scholar return. on the right track.
But the high rates of exclusionary discipline among students who have experienced trauma need not be the case, the report says.
In 23 Michigan school districts, students who had previously experienced homelessness were suspended or expelled at rates below the statewide average of 8% for all students.
The 10 school districts with the lowest discipline rates for students who experienced homelessness were:
- Schools in the Ovide-Elsie region (6.5%),
- Eaton Rapids Public Schools (6.1%),
- Hamilton Community Schools (5.8%),
- Plymouth-Township Community Schools (5.7%)
- Jenison Public Schools (5.3%)
- Southfield Public School District (5.3%)
- Berrien Springs Public Schools (5.1%)
- Greenville Public Schools (4.8%)
- Kenowa Hills Public Schools (4.5%)
- Clintondale Community Schools (2.4%)
While some schools accurately report zero suspensions and expulsions, the report says it’s likely a significant proportion used disciplinary practices, but did not report these incidents in statewide data. .
Across 60 school districts, no suspensions or expulsions were reported in statewide data.
Trauma-informed school discipline policies are especially important for students who have experienced homelessness and who are already at risk of performing worse academically than their peers who have always had stable housing.
In collaboration with the nonprofit Student Advocacy Center of Michigan, the report further explored policy recommendations to increase support for students who have experienced homelessness and the districts that serve them.
“We are calling for several changes to the state’s discipline law to better protect homeless people and other students and reduce unnecessary school cuts,” said Peri Stone-Palmquist, executive director of Student Advocacy. Center of Michigan. “One of those changes involves districts considering how homelessness may have contributed to behavior. The hope is that this consideration can help districts get to the root of behavioral issues and develop meaningful alternatives to suspension.
Recommendations include adding homelessness as a factor before removing any student from school, ending the use of long-term suspensions and expulsions exceeding 10 days in elementary school, and ensuring that schools and districts do not have attendance, homework or credit policies that create barriers. to full academic engagement for homeless students.
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