District prepares to ease zero-tolerance policy

Oxford School officials are working to implement changes to the district’s disciplinary policies following changes at Michigan’s state level.

Oxford’s board of education discussed these changes at a recent meeting.

The shift comes on the heels of a state decision, made in December 2016, which will ease zero-tolerance policies in public schools and give district officials flexibility to consider many factors when deciding whether to punish a student.

The package of bills, introduced with bipartisan support, aim to 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.

Following the changes, Oxford students will no longer be automatically expelled or suspended due to misconduct.

Instead, school officials will be permitted to consider a student’s age, disciplinary history, a student’s disability and whether safety was at risk before implementing a disciplinary decision.

According to Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Denise Sweat, last year the district shifted the responsibility of decisions regarding long-term suspensions (greater than 10 days) from the school board to a designated “tribunal.”

The district’s tribunal consists of Sweat, Clear Lake Elementary Principal Brad Bigelow, Oxford Middle School Principal Dacia Beazley and Oxford High Principal Todd Dunckley.

“We feel . . . there is value in having equal representation from elementary, middle school, and high school administrators,” Sweat explained to the board. “We believe the process is very efficient and that the collaborative team effort eliminates the emotional aspect of that discipline hearing.”

The tribunal will continue making those decisions while also taking into account the necessary factors, according to Sweat.

During the meeting, Board Secretary Mark Stepek said a disciplinary incident last year, involving an Oxford student who had been carrying a knife, had shown him the importance of allowing school officials to have discretion when making decisions.

“In all other circumstances, he was a model student,” Stepek said. “That was just something he forgot and had left in his backpack because, the day before, they were out in the woods.”

Treasurer Mike Schweig agreed that the former zero-tolerance policy “didn’t always work.”

Sweat said she is unsure of what costs will be associated with these changes at this time, but that they will be effective July 1.


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