Organizers with the Harriet Tubman Center's Youth Voice project say about 150 students and adults will cover the 85 miles in 14 relay stages, beginning Monday and ending Wednesday with a news conference on the steps of the Michigan Capitol.
Among the dozen student "gladiators" planning to be out front is Michael Reynolds, 16, who missed seven days last school year for failing to have his student ID with him at Cody Academy in Detroit. Reynolds said his experience is shared by many students around the state.
"It hurts me because schools are pushing kids out in the streets," said Reynolds, co-president of Youth Voice. "If we're in the streets, nothing good can come of it. I think sometimes the schools set us up for failure."
The walk comes as officials in Michigan and nationwide are raising concern about school suspension and expulsion policies. The Michigan Board of Education is expected to take action in May on a proposed model policy for reducing suspensions and expulsions. The policy would urge schools to suspend or expel students for "only the most serious offenses, and to adopt practices that allow educators to address disciplinary matters as opportunities for learning."
According to the state, public schools made 1,796 expulsions in the 2012-13 school year, down from 1,893 the year before. There are no statewide statistics on suspensions.
"The Michigan Department of Education is excited to partner with Youth Voice to address the negative impact exclusionary disciplinary practices have on students and families," Kyle Guerrant, director of the department's office of school support services, said in a statement. "An over-reliance to suspend and expel students for non-violent behavior creates significant barriers to learning, and increases the likelihood of academic failure and students dropping out of the educational system all together."
Reynolds, who now attends Loyola High School, said the suspension hurt his studies.
"I was behind. It was really hard for me to catch back up," he said.
Detroit Public Schools spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski said she couldn't comment on Reynolds' suspension but defended the district's disciplinary policies.
"The safety and security of all of our students is our top priority," she said. "We follow our student code of conduct, and we fully expect our students to do so."