Editorial: Use virtual learning for those kicked out of school

Student suspensions and expulsions are skyrocketing since the deadly shooting at Oxford High School last month, as school officials practice increased vigilance to head-off any possible violence.

It’s prudent to separate potentially dangerous students from the broader school community. But that doesn’t mean their education has to come to an end.

The remote learning option developed during the COVID-19 pandemic should be used to keep troubled kids in class virtually.

That’s a more productive approach than returning to the zero-tolerance policies that many districts are considering in an effort to protect students, teachers and staff.

Pandemic-era learning tools could be an effective alternative for keeping suspended students engaged in learning while their behavioral issues are being addressed.

Prior to the wave of school shootings that began in the 1990s, school districts had relative autonomy over student discipline, as long as punishments weren’t arbitrary or capricious.

It was in the late ’90s that zero-tolerance policies found their way into schools. Under these policies, school districts listed in student handbooks what kinds of punishments would be dispensed for specific rule violations.

In 2017, Michigan passed a law intended to move school administrators away from formulaic disciplines because statistics showed schools disproportionately suspended and expelled students of color.

Michigan doesn’t require districts to offer full-time learning opportunities for suspended students. That needs to change considering an increased number of kids who are acting out in classrooms after two years of largely remote learning.

Even before the tragic shooting at Oxford, expulsions and suspensions were on the rise. The Student Advocacy Center of Michigan reported 19 cases involving expulsions for September and October of this year compared to just three in 2019.

Cases involving suspensions longer than 10 days also saw a jump from four in 2019 to 27 in the first two months of this school year, the group said.

Schools are reporting that since the Oxford incident there has been a spike in behavior that merits expulsion. Children as young as 12 face criminal charges for faking threats of violence. Dearborn’s school district suspended 13 students in about as many days before the holiday break for such threats.

Students shouldn’t get a pass for disrupting school or committing violent acts. The first responsibility of schools is to provide a safe learning environment.

When it is necessary to send a child home for disciplinary reasons, learning should not end. Thanks to the pandemic, most districts have the tools and experience to move those students to online instruction until they are ready to safely return to the classroom.

The Legislature should act to require districts to use to use that online capability to continue the education of students who are under suspension, whenever it’s possible to do so.

— Detroit News