Isn’t it odd how so many schools praise tolerance and diversity while practicing zero tolerance discipline policies? Where did those policies come from? What impacts have they had? That’s today’s Friday 5 topic.
1. Where did zero tolerance policies come from?
“Zero tolerance” is a term coined in the drug war of the Reagan era. It arrived in schools with the 1986 Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, which mandated zero tolerance policies for drugs and alcohol on public school grounds. The policy was expanded to cover weapons with the 1994 Safe and Gun-Free Schools Act. That law required 1-year expulsion for bringing a firearm to schools.
2. Is school violence rising?
Fear of school violence may continue to rise but the National Center for Education Statistics reports that school violence has been declining since 1993.
3. If school violence is declining, why are there more cops in schools?
Police officers in schools is not evidence of ceaseless violence but one effect of punitive approach to curbing violence. After the 1999 Columbine shootings the Dept. of Justice started the COPS in Schools programs to give grants to schools to hire “resource officers. George W. Bush doubled the program.
Another effect of a punitive discipline policy is increasingly harsh punishment for all types of rule-breaking. A 2011 study of Texas’ public schools found that 54% of students were suspended or expelled at least once between 7th and 12th grade. Only 3% of those punishments were for actions (e.g. possessing a gun or drugs) that fall under mandatory expulsion laws. Students suspended or expelled for lesser violations were three times as likely to have later experiences with the juvenile justice system.
4. Is zero tolerance a healthy policy for kids?
No. I could have filled all 5 slots on this one, but for brevity it’s worth noting that the American Psychological Association took a public stance against zero tolerance in 2006. Fuentes says, “An APA report called punitive discipline harmful to adolescent development and rebutted the idea that school violence is ‘out of control.’”
5. Who is fighting back?
After years of community organizing and protests by residents, the Los Angeles Board of Education eliminated its zero tolerance policy and adopted a “skills-building, nonpunitive” discipline strategy called Postive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS).
In Palm Beach, Florida, where school district police were arresting students at “astronomical rates,” several advocacy groups filed a complaint with the state saying that the district was violating an education law protecting special ed. students, who were being suspended disproportionately. The district agreed to a settlement that requires a new code of conduct and training for all staff by national experts in PBIS.
A coalition of legal, education and community groups has been pushing the Dignity in Schools Campaign to change discipline policies and de-emphasize high-stakes testing on a national level.
These sorts of campaigns have a long way to go, but it’s work that needs to be done.