By JOSH THALL
Capital News Service
LANSING — Public school students above the fifth grade who threaten the lives of school employees or volunteers could be permanently expelled under a bill introduced by Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, a Lowell Republican.
Hildenbrand said he introduced the bill as a response to a phone call he received from a teacher in his Grand Rapids district. He said she told him a student had threatened her, and every day when that student was in class, she felt unsafe.
The teacher reported the problem to school officials, Hildenbrand said, but nothing substantial was done. Grand Rapids schools officials did not respond to requests for comment.
“I introduced this bill to begin the conversation of finding out if we need to do something to make sure our teachers feel safe,” Hildenbrand said. “We go to great lengths to make sure our students are safe in school, but I think we also need to consider potential problems where teachers could be endangered, as well.”
Students would be permanently expelled under the bill, Hildenbrand said, and unable to attend any other public school in Michigan. The bill would allow for an appeals process.
Currently, if a student who has been expelled is denied reinstatement by the school district that expelled him, the student can also take his or her appeal to other school districts of the Office of Public and Governmental Affairs for the Michigan Department of Education.
“There are also other ways for a student to get their education too,” Hildenbrand said. “We have strict discipline academies that will educate students that have been expelled – so they have that option as well.”
Strict discipline academies are public school academies created in 1999 as a way to help and educate at-risk students without risking the safety of others.
Students suspended from public schools in Michigan also have the option of going to a private school, according to Thomas Langdon, superintendent of Sturgis Public Schools.
Langdon said he was not comfortable with the bill, arguing that it should incorporate different levels of punishment depending on the severity of the threat.
“I think there has to be more subjectivity,” Langdon said. “If a child were to say something out of anger, or totally of the moment — I just think there is a variance of threats, and the bill doesn’t fully look at or analyze that piece.”
Hildenbrand agreed, saying that a possible way to improve his bill would be looking at how to treat different cases of verbal assault toward a school employee or volunteer.
“There could be just a student having a bad day, and maybe have an outburst and say something, and there may need to be a different discipline for that,” Hildenbrand said. “The reality is, there are some teenagers who can be dangerous. So if there is a pattern of threat that could become real, then I think we need to address that in a different way.”
DiSessa said the Michigan Department of Education is examining the bill and has not taken a position on it.
Langdon said assaulting someone should mean that you have an ability to carry out that threat. He said there might be some issues in expelling a sixth grader for saying he is going to kill a teacher, when he or she might not even understand the concept of killing.
“You always want safety, but I really don’t think this is necessary,” Langdon said. “I think this goes a little beyond what is necessary. I think most schools take a reasoned approach to serious threats.”
The bill has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.
By JOSH THALL