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Mich. Ponders Softening Its 'Zero Tolerance' Policy For Students With Weapons

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Michigan lawmakers are considering softening the state's expulsion policy in cases of young children who bring a weapon other than a gun to school.

Students in kindergarten through 5th grade would be given the most slack under a bill that was awaiting action by the Senate last week.

The proposal would cut the mandatory expulsion time from a minimum of 90 days to 10 days for K-5 pupils who brought to school a weapon other than a firearm.

But the bill, SB 527, continues to set a minimum of 90 days' expulsion for young offenders who bring a gun to school.

And it would not alter the expulsion period for students in grades 6 and higher. If those students are caught with a weapon at school, they cannot return until 180 school days--an entire school year--have passed.

The bill also would ease the rules for how schools provide an education for students who have been expelled.

Under the current law, adopted last year, expelled students must be taught either in a separate facility or at a different time from the general student population. But the bill now under consideration simply requires that such students be separated physically from other students during the school day.

Adding Discretion

The Senate bill was expected to be approved in that chamber, but observers said it was too early to tell last week how it might be received in the House.

"To the extent that it provides additional discretion, it is clearly going in the right direction," said Raymond Telman, the associate executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators.

But Mr. Telman said he feared that the bill still would not offer as much flexibility as federal law requires--that the district superintendent may review expulsions for weapons offenses on a case-by-case basis.

Rep. James G. Agee, a vice chairman of the House education committee, said last week that he would try to put language in the bill that would allow such individual reviews.

Mr. Agee said it was "stupid" that a school in his district had to expel a 1st grader for bringing a knife to school.

"The superintendent of that school system," he said, "was begging us to change this law."

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