Zero Tolerance Policies
course we want children to behave well in school, toward each other and toward
teachers. Of course we don't want any violent episodes, bullying or threats.
But hasn't this push toward "zero tolerance" of breaking rules or varying from
standard behavior gone over the edge into absurdity, in some cases? What's to
the 12-year-old son of Eddie Evans of Houston - a First Class Boy Scout, church
youth leader, and winner of an outstanding student award -- left the house in
shirt sleeves to meet the schoolbus. His mother called him back to put on a
jacket because it was cool out.
morning, he discovered that the three-inch pocketknife he had taken to his last
Boy Scout meeting was still inside his coat. Having a knife in school was
clearly against the school's zero-tolerance policy. Unsure what to do, he
consulted a friend before putting the knife in his locker. The friend turned
thereafter, police arrested him and took him to a juvenile-detention center
without contacting his parents. He was expelled for 45 days and had to go to an
alternative school for juvenile offenders. He was thinking of killing himself -
even though everybody knew it was an honest mistake, not a threat to anybody.
outrageous abuses like that, the zero tolerance policies put in place in many
schools in the 1990s are now slowly being dismantled by concerned state
legislatures. They know that government schools lose a lot of credibility when
routine bullying and teasing is allowed to go on, and yet honor students have things like this happen
concept of "zero tolerance" for bad behavior, which results in severe
punishment for major and minor incidents alike, stems from 1980s federal drug
enforcement policies. It took shape as an educational fad through the funding
mechanism of the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994. Some say schools in many
localities have over-used grant monies to put in place zero tolerance policies
that have since descended into excessive use of isolation, removal from class,
suspensions, and disciplinary referrals to juvenile justice authorities for
mild infractions in schools.
there's the total silliness associated with the rigid concept: in spring 2008, Zion-Benton Township High in
Illinois suspended 11 students for seven days after one dressed up in a gorilla
costume and chased 10 wearing banana costumes through the school. Yes, that was
disruptive - but seven days' suspension? Talk about monkey business. . . .
After the murders
at Columbine and other schools, the public became aware of weapons in backpacks
and other truly dangerous things going on in government schools. They demanded
safety precautions. But in some ways, the overreaction has been even worse:
kids expelled for having nail clippers (weapons), Midol (drugs), mouthwash
(alcohol), or for disruptive behavior (blowing your nose one too many times in
of zero tolerance policies say it's not that they don't want schools to be safe
for all kids. It's just that the rigid policies so often in place in schools
don't take into account human behavior, which is much more fluid and
unpredictable. Zero tolerance policies also block the good judgment of
educators on the scene.
policies tend to criminalize children's behavior and cast aspersions on them as
being threatening and malevolent - proven guilty when they, of all humans,
should be assumed to be innocent.
Here's an article about what's wrong
with zero tolerance policies:
stories of abuses of zero tolerance policies, see www.endzerotolerance.com, www.zerointelligence.net and www.ztnightmares.com
an excellent, federally-funded approach to school safety that avoids the
pitfalls of overzealous zero tolerance policies, developed by professors at the
University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Indiana: www.unl.edu/srs/project.html