Focus on “Zero Tolerance”

August. May 15, 2001 — Shocked by tragic school shootings like Columbine, school districts across the country adopted a draconian zero-tolerance policy to address potential violence and other disciplinary issues.

< p ALIGN="left">But more and more students are being punished harshly for relatively minor offenses, leading many education professionals to move from zero tolerance to increased discipline flexibility sex.

Zero tolerance policies typically require automatic expulsion, suspension, or referral to law enforcement authorities for certain types of violations of the school code of conduct. In many school districts, there is no case-by-case review to ensure the punishment is appropriate for the crime, but that may be changing.

Federal law requires schools to impose mandatory one-year suspensions for students who carry firearms on campus. But many schools also have harsh penalties for students carrying other weapons, possessing drugs and other offenses.

Unfortunately, issues including defining what is a weapon and what is a threat have proven difficult for schools to take lightly or wisely solved.

For example, Bob Schwartz, executive director of the nonprofit Juvenile Law Center, tells WebMD, “We’re seeing a lot of Special education [educational] children – children with mental illness – arrested and fired for behavior that was clearly their disability [symptom].”

Schwartz said, “My favorite is the 6-year-old in Pittsburgh who got suspended for a first-grade Halloween party for getting an axe in his firefighter costume.”

Other cases abound. Last year, an 11-year-old Georgia girl was suspended for possessing a “Tweety Bird” keychain. Just this month, the Washington Post reported that police detained two 8-year-old boys for making terrorist threats with a “weapon” — a gun made from a sheet of paper.

Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) executive director Pam Riley tells WebMD, “You can’t just laugh it off, you can’t just say They’re joking and joking. You have to fix this, but I don’t think it needs to be resolved as a legal issue.”

< p ALIGN="left">U.S. Department of Education The data shows that schools are getting safer and fewer students are reporting crime and carrying weapons.

But “Zero Tolerance, Zero Evidence” published in August 2000 by Russell Skiba of the Indiana Education Policy Center The report says there is little evidence that the rise of zero tolerance has improved student behaviour and school safety. In fact, he said, suspensions and expulsions appear to lead to further suspensions and expulsions, or even dropouts.

The National Education Association has also questioned these policies, noting that children are being expelled from school for taking aspirin and wearing nail clippers. Gerald Newbury, executive director of the NEA Health Information Network, tells WebMD that “it’s not so much a zero-tolerance policy as it is about implementing these policies.” Those policies almost always allow schools to address more problems, he said.

Earlier this year, the American Bar Association voted against zero-tolerance measures that do not take into account the specific circumstances in which students violate the law. code of conduct.

Joanne McDaniel, acting director of the Center for the Prevention of School Violence, tells WebMD, “A lot of schools are jumping on the zero tolerance bandwagon, especially in Columbine. After that.” She said, “Schools want a [policy] that they can quickly submit to the school board and write into the student handbook without having to stop and think about how to do it well.”

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According to McDaniel, “It’s not going to be a policy to keep schools safe. It has to be the people who implement the policy and the program,” she said. Schools are starting to take a “more thoughtful” approach to disciplinary rules.

Likewise, Riley said, “our passion for safer schools has gone too far.” Meanwhile, she said, “I Think we’re seeing more flexibility, not in allowing inappropriate behavior, but in how to handle it. Zero tolerance in no way means you can’t use a reason.”

Schwartz agrees with strong opposition to zero tolerance policy. But because they are largely under local control, he said, “the problem is there are about 15,000 school districts across the country.”

So what should parents do if they are concerned about school policies?

Riley said, “Knowledgeable. Ask your principal what the school safety plan is and what is the code of conduct when there is a violation at the school .”

McDaniel points out that some schools mistakenly send codes of conduct to parents

Schwartz advises: “Organize with other parents. Write to supervisors and principals. Parents should say, ‘We are not against school discipline, but we are for common sense school discipline. ‘”

“A group of parents has incredible power,” Newbury said. “If you have 10 or 20 parents working together to send a message to the school board, you’ll get a policy change.”