Kyle Thompson, 14, was joking around with his buddies at Harrison High School in Farmington Hills, Mich., last March, when one of those friends grabbed a sheet of paper labeled “Hit List” out of Thompson’s notebook.
Okay, so as a high school teacher, I find it extremely annoying when my students are distracted by something that has nothing to do with our class and what we are learning. However, what happened next is unprecedented in my experience.
Thompson allegedly had a list of people he wanted to hit on the football field. He and his friends say the list was just a joke and, when their teacher wanted to take a look, they let her do so.
According to Thompson, he and the teacher engaged in what he thought was a friendly game of tug-of-war with the paper, before he eventually let go.
According to the teacher, Thompson assaulted her. She turned him in, and the police were called. Not only has Thompson been expelled for 180 days from all Michigan high schools, but he was also arrested, handcuffed, taken to the police station and charged with assault. He may face jail time if he’s convicted.
This is lunacy. Yes, this student deserved some disciplinary action for resisting his teacher’s request. But arrest and a charge of assault? Has Harrison High School lost its mind? Why were the police even involved?
The Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union is trying to reverse this charge.
You can watch the ACLU video of Kyle talking about his suspension below:
Really? For a dispute over a piece of paper? As a high school teacher, I can report that students do sometimes resist when I go to take their phones away from them because they’ve been texting in class, but it has never occurred to me to call in the law.
Despite witness statements contradicting the teacher’s account and the fact that Kyle had not ever been in trouble before, he was 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.
Thankfully, some school districts around the country are recognizing that zero tolerance policies have gone too far.
After the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, schools nationwide established zero tolerance weapons policies: schools had to suspend or expel students, no matter the circumstances, when weapons were involved.
Obviously this was done with the best of intentions, but there have been plenty of unintended consequences.
More enlightened thinking in educational circles these days is questioning the use of suspensions as punishment. As many teachers are aware, kids often enjoy those days at home, when they can play games, watch TV, do just as they please all day long.
Even worse, the statistics show that this approach to discipline leads to a “school-to-prison-pipeline,” in which students — a disproportionate number of whom are African-American — are arrested and incarcerated for alleged infractions of school discipline that in some cases are as minor as defiance. The students subsequently become entangled in a cycle of incarceration.
Restorative justice is the name of a program increasingly offered in schools seeking an alternative to “zero tolerance” policies like suspension, expulsion and truancy courts.
Since suspending students, or sending them to court, often leads to academic failure, thereby perpetuating the very behavior it is seeking to address, restorative justice instead provides a way of addressing negative behavior by keeping a student at school and using various means to encourage the offender to take responsibility and make amends.
The approach, which is now taking root in schools in Oakland, Calif., as well as in Chicago, Denver and Portland, tries to nip problems and violence in the bud by creating stronger and more open relationships between students, teachers and administrators.
Suspending, expelling, fining and jailing students who have discipline problems at school will only succeed in ensuring they never want to return to school.
If you believe that what has happened to Thompson is wrong, please sign our petition demanding his return to school.
Photo Credit: youtube video