STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

Whiteboard: Does zero-tolerance go too far?

In March of last year, 9th grader Kyle Thompson and his science teacher got into a tug-of-war with a sheet of paper, a “hit list,” that he had written.  The list detailed who the young man wanted to hit on the football field.  In a video produced by the ACLU and later shared on, Kyle explains, “When we were pulling it back and forth, she was laughing at first, so I thought it was just a joke, but she got serious and I let go and she left the class.  Then the hall monitor came and they escorted me to the office.  The principal told the police officers to take me to the police station.  The scariest part was probably being handcuffed...” You can see the entire video here. 

Kyle ended up being charged with assault and battery, expelled from Farmington Harrison High School and placed on house-arrest.  His fate awaits him at in Oakland County Court today.

Detroit's Fox 2 reported on Thompson’s story last month: “Despite the statements from the fellow students, and the fact that Thompson had never been in serious trouble before, he was still expelled under Michigan's Zero Tolerance law, which states any student who assaults a teacher must be expelled - and not just from their school, but from any Michigan public or charter school for one year.”

I reached out to Farmington Public Schools to hear what they had to say about this.  Here’s an excerpt from their written statement: “...In Farmington, we strive to consider each student and any incident separately and individually, taking all facts and circumstances into account.  The zero tolerance law passed by our legislature takes that ability away from us and requires all assaults to be treated the same.  It is up to state policy makers to revise these zero tolerance laws, and until that happens, we will continue to follow our legal mandates as they are.”

The ACLU has been trying to convince legislators that it’s time to reform Michigan’s Zero- tolerance laws.

Questions for teachers & students: If you’re a teacher, have you ever been involved with a similar incident? | How could Kyle’s teacher have turned what happened into a teaching moment? | Do you perceive Zero-tolerance laws to be helpful or harmful in today’s schools?

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