Rethink Discipline Toolkit

Creating a Safe, Responsive School Climate

The Student Advocacy Center has played an integral role in the development of the Rethink Discipline laws that went into effect in August 2017. These laws help to pave the way for how schools should handle discipline. This is an ongoing effort, and you are not in it alone. We have gathered several resources to assist your school and community as you engage in rethinking discipline and finding ways to keep students in school. This toolkit includes a summary of key changes in the law, recommendations on how to revise your school code, intervention checklists, the 7 factor worksheet and more.

Understanding the Rethink Discipline Laws

Public Acts: 360-366 of 2016
Effective: August 1, 2017

Michigan had one of the harshest discipline codes in the country, mandating expulsion for a large variety of reasons. The intent was to keep students safe, but evidence showed that far too many students were being removed, and that districts often felt their hands were tied and were forced to expel. In the end, students (particularly students of color and students with disabilities) were put at greater risk of school dropout and criminal justice involvement and not given the adult support needed to truly learn from their mistakes, make amends and make educational progress. Around the country, laws have changed to reduce suspensions and expulsions, and at the end of 2016, Michigan’s Legislature passed the Rethink Discipline bills.

Read our summary of the Rethink Discipline laws.

MCL 380.1310d addresses 7 factors and rebuttable presumption

MCL 380.1310c addresses restorative practice


  • Michigan enacts zero tolerance legislation mandating permanent expulsion for possession for various offenses. Michigan’s zero tolerance law exceeds the federal legislation that also allows for exceptions on a case-by-case basis of which Michigan never allowed.

  • Michigan senators proposed a bill to amend the juvenile code and require that an alternative education program be offered to students who are expelled. The bill was not passed.

  • Two state representatives later moved to require that the school board develop an individualized plan of alternative education to ensure that the progress of expelled students is similar to that of their peers. The bill was not passed.

  • The law was amended to add additional mandatory expulsions such as criminal sexual misconduct.

  • The law was again amended, allowing teachers to suspend a student for up to one day for “good reason” and defined suspensions for physical assault and mandatory expulsions for 180 school days, which was later overruled after being found “unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.”

  • A senator offers an amendment to the bill requiring the school board to place students who are expelled in a suitable program to continue his or her education during expulsion. The amendment failed, but empowered some school districts and school boards to create three strict discipline academies to service at-risk students.

  • The Michigan Journal of Race and Law publishes: The Children Left Behind: How Zero Tolerance Impacts Our Most Vulnerable Youth by Ruth Zweifler and Julia De Beers.

  • “Nowhere to Go – The devastating journey of youth expelled from Michigan schools” is published by future Executive Director Peri Stone-Palmquist, who conducted the research as a graduate student in collaboration with Student Advocacy Center, to bring to light the personal experiences of expelled youth.

  • The National Dignity In Schools Campaign started, as local grassroots and advocacy groups came together to end school pushout.  Student Advocacy Center became the 1st Michigan member in 2012.

  • In collaboration with Student Advocacy Center, ACLU of Michigan releases an important report called, “Reclaiming Michigan’s Throwaway Kids: Students Trapped in the School-to-Prison Pipeline” and launches a campaign to revise the state’s school discipline code.   

  • In an unprecedented study of nearly 1 million Texas public secondary school students followed for more than six years, a report released by The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center in partnership with the Public Policy Research Institute of Texas A&M University, showed the extent and damage of suspensions and expulsions. Shortly, thereafter, Education Secretary Duncan and Attorney General Holder announced the launch of a collaborative project – the Supportive School Discipline Initiative (Initiative) – between the U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Justice (DOJ) to support the use of school discipline practices that foster safe, supportive, and productive learning environments while keeping students in school. 

  • All Kids In School Coalition, an informal group of organizations and advocates organized by Student Advocacy Center, finalized a Solutions Not Suspensions pledge and began collecting signatures. More than 30 organizations and 200 individuals signed, calling on districts to end non-mandatory expulsions.

  • Student Advocacy Center publishes a book of stories highlighting the harm of zero tolerance called: “Grim Tales Out of School.”

  • Michigan School Justice Partnership is launched around the state, bringing together several state departments, educators, judges, law enforcement, mental health, nonprofits and others to form county teams and action plans to reduce suspensions, expulsions and truancy. Student Advocacy Center participates on 3 county teams.

  • The Council of State Governments releases a “School Discipline Consensus Report” with strategies to keep students in school.

  • Governor Snyder publically signs the Rethink Discipline Bills. Student Advocacy Center and two students traveled to Lansing to take part.

  • Youth from Detroit, Ypsilanti and elsewhere joined together and organized an 80-mile walk for education from Detroit to Lansing to raise awareness about suspensions and expulsions for minor infractions. 125 people participated, including DHS Director Maura Corrigan, and State Superintendent Michael Flanagan.

  • Michigan’s Board of Education unanimously adopted a model code of conduct that emphasizes restorative practices, due process and alternatives to harmful suspension. Student Advocacy Center partnered with several other organizations to help develop the model code.

  • The U.S. Department of Education releases a guide for improving school climate and discipline.

  • Student Advocacy Center worked with school board members and educators to develop a “Rethink Discipline Board Resolution,” committing districts to ending non-mandatory expulsions, analyzing discipline data and investing in alternatives. Ultimately, Washtenaw ISD, Wayne RESA, Ypsilanti Community Schools and Jackson County schools adopted the resolutions formally.

  • Youth from Ypsilanti, Jackson and Detroit and other organizations staged a “Zero Tolerance Game of Life” demonstration on the Capitol Lawn, complete with a jail cell and jumpsuit, judge costume and stations for the classroom, restorative circle, teen court, board of education, expulsion, suspension, juvenile detention and a bank.

  • HB 5618-5621 and 5693-5695 are first introduced to the House of Representatives by Rep. Andy Schor, Rep. Adam Zemke, Rep. Al Pscholka, Rep. Lisa Lyons, Rep. Jeff Irwin, Rep. Peter Lucido, and Rep. David LaGrand. These are later known as the “Rethink Discipline Bills.”

  • Student Advocacy Center youth testified before state legislators on the harm of zero tolerance and need for reform.

  • Fourteen Youth Action Michigan (YAM) students and six adult allies from Ypsilanti and Detroit chapters organized a “Capitol Commencement” in Lansing to show their support for the Rethink Discipline Bills. Students presented Senators graduation caps and a “diploma” of startling facts regarding harsh school discipline.

  • President of the United States releases a report called “The Continuing Need to Rethink Discipline.”

  • “Rethink Discipline” bills passed by the Senate, Presented and Approved by Governor; Filed with Secretary of State, becomes Public Acts 360-366 of 2016.

  • Student Advocacy Center facilitates trainings with various school districts, school boards, etc. regarding the implementation of the Rethink Discipline Bills. We develop an extensive Web site with resources to implement the new laws. Student Advocacy Center collaborates with a number of organizations to send a letter to every district in the state, urging careful implementation.

  • Rethink Discipline Bills take effect.

  • Student Advocacy Center joins ACLU of Michigan and Street Democracy (in collaboration with a group of advocates) to present to the State Board of Education, raising concerns about implementation. Within weeks, the Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Education were updated to reference the new discipline laws.

Making a Paradigm Shift

Reducing suspensions and improving school climate (and achievement) requires a new way of thinking. It requires ongoing conversations and encouragement from courageous leaders who take a “whole child” approach.

Student Advocacy Center has been doing this work for a long time. We have gathered resources here to help you begin to make that shift.

  • First, for consultation on specific cases, reach out to our toll-free Helpline 1-855-668-1916.
  • We also have experience working one-on-one with students, parents and schools. Our training helps to think about the “why” and digs into a whole host of practices (administrative, prevention, intervention, alternatives to suspension) and practical tools. Reach out for a customized training from the Student Advocacy Center at

Implementation Tools

7 Factor Worksheet

This is a template any district can and should use to demonstrate that they have truly considered the 7 factors outlined in the law. Checklist templates provided by law firms do NOT demonstrate that a district truly considered the 7 factors. You can download and personalize this worksheet.

Lesser Intervention Tool

This is a template and tool created in collaboration with Wayne RESA and many school districts. This tool can be downloaded and customized with the lesser interventions available in your district. Student Advocacy Center is also available to consult on individual cases and make recommendations for lesser interventions. Please reach out to

Michigan Department of Education Alternatives to Suspensions and Expulsions Toolkit

Threat Assessment Tool

Donna Secor Pennington, Michigan Association of School Social Workers (MASSW), Forest Hills Public Schools, developed this tool for threat assessments.

Code of Conduct Resources

Code of Conduct Revision Process

Student Advocacy Center, in collaboration with volunteers from the University of Michigan’s Law School, School of Social Work and School of Education, may be able to provide technical assistance in evaluating your code of conduct and making recommendations for changes at no cost. Please contact us at for more information.

Code of Conduct Self-Analysis Tool

Michigan State Board of Education Model Code of Student Conduct

Dignity In Schools Model Code

Positive Behavior / School Climate

Conscious Discipline

Professional development and tools to help.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS)

PBIS is school-wide tiered approach to building a positive climate in your school. Find resources here.

Justice Leaders Collaborative

The Justice Leaders Collaborative offers an intensive seminar designed for school personnel who seek to deepen their understanding of and commitment to equity, inclusion, diversity and social justice along lines of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion and ability.

Neutral Zone’s Youth-Driven Spaces Training

Neutral Zone’s Youth-Driven Spaces training will help schools and agencies learn how to start and support an effective youth advisory in your program or school.

Erasing Racism & Creating/Celebrating Equity (ERACCE)

ERACCE is dedicated to organizing and facilitating anti-racism workshops, providing mentorship and transferring knowledge to individuals and institutions interested in resisting and dismantling structural racism and other forms of oppression.

Michigan Collaborative for Mindfulness in Education (MC4ME)

Restorative Practices

Restorative Practices Continuum

Includes a visual chart of restorative practices from the least formal to the most formal, and links to video examples and resources.

Mediation Centers in Michigan

Black Family Development

Black Family Development is based in Detroit and is IIRP certified.

Information from the Michigan Department of Education on Restorative Justice

Neutral Zone

Neutral Zone offers an interactive, two-day training for schools on restorative practices and helps schools understand how restorative practices can encourage authentic youth voices in schools.

International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP)

Social-Emotional Learning

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)

Michigan Model for Health

End Zero Tolerance

Fix School Discipline

Beyond the Stoplight

Creating equitable and caring classrooms for children