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Alternatives to Suspensions and Expulsions Toolkit

Implementing Alternatives to Suspension and Expulsion

The Michigan State Board of Education’s mission is to “support learners and learning.” This can only be achieved if students are in school pursuing their education. To fulfill this mission, school districts are strongly encouraged to adopt policies and practices that allow educators to address disciplinary matters as opportunities for learning instead of punishment. This toolkit is meant to provide examples and ideas for alternatives to suspensions and expulsions, that align with current legislation, to keep students in school and learning, and help school staff provide or connect them with the supports they may need to be successful.

A Texas study tracked every middle school student for over six years. After controlling for more than 80 variables, it showed that school policies and practices—factors schools control—are the primary drivers of suspension rates, not student behavior (Fabelo et al., 2011)

Legal mandates and community safety may require removal of individuals who possess a dangerous weapon, commit arson, or engage in criminal sexual conduct (Gun Free Schools Act, 1994; Michigan Compiled Laws under MCL 380.1311), make bomb threats or engage in verbal assault (MCL 380.1311a), and/or commit physical assault against another at school or a school-related event (MCL 380.1310, 380.1311, 380.1311a, 380.1312), in compliance with MCL 380.1310(c)(d) as revised. State law (380.1310d) mandates that districts consider 7 factors, including lesser interventions, for all suspensions and expulsions, except those involving students knowingly in possession of a gun with an intent to use.

According to the report Lost Opportunities: How Disparate School Discipline Continues to Drive Differences in the Opportunity to Learn (October 2020), during the 2015-2016 school year national estimates released by the U.S. Department of Education in May 2020 indicate that there were 11,392,474 days of instruction lost due to out of school suspensions (not even including expulsions). The equivalent of over 62,000 years of lost instruction. Numerous studies have shown that exclusionary discipline often sets the stage for student disenfranchisement, disconnectedness from school, academic failure, dropout, and the potential for criminalization. We should not be pulling students from a supportive system and putting them somewhere (outside the school system) without those supports.

Exclusionary discipline is disproportionally applied to students of color, students with disabilities, and low-income students. Lost Opportunities reports:

  • black students lost 103 days of instruction per 100 students enrolled. 82 days more than their white peers.
  • Students with disabilities lost 68 days per 100 students and Native American students lost 54 days per 100 students enrolled.
  • At the secondary level:
    • black boys lost 132 days per 100 students enrolled
    • black girls lost 77 days, seven times the rate of lost instruction experienced by white girls at the secondary level.

This results in staggering costs to students, school districts, and society. In the study “The High Cost of Harsh Discipline and Its Disparate Impact”, results show that suspensions in 10th grade alone produce more than 67,000 dropouts in the U.S. and generate social costs to the nation of more than $35 billion.

This toolkit intentionally proposes approaches and resources for school discipline that gives preference to keeping students in school where they can receive the academic and social-emotional supports they need. It includes resources for school community members, guidance for families and caregivers, and resources for School Resource Officers.

Click below for resources


Parents and Caregivers


School Resource Officers (SROs)