Zero tolerance is arguably the dumbest policy in the history of education and that includes things like teaching Creationism in non-religious schools. At least that can be fixed and ameliorated with the teaching of real science. You can’t really undo a suspension or expulsion and refund the time lost for a kid who got kicked out of school for bringing a plastic butter knife in his lunch. Despite how idiotic the policy is, it’s nationwide and has been in place for years. The gist of the policy is as follows – school officials will not need to worry about things like context, intention, common sense or even using brains and will instead use blanket, pointless punishments for any and all offenses that seem to fall under the purview of school policy, whether it makes sense or not.
Likely we’ve all heard stories of the heavy handed application of zero tolerance in the past. Like I said, that plastic butter knife example is true, kids have been suspended for bringing a knife in their lunch. In 2010 a 12 year old girl in new York wrote “I love my friends” on her desk in green marker. She was taken from school in handcuffs by the police. Three years earlier a 13 year old wrote “Okay” on her desk and was taken from school by police along with several other students who put stickers on a wall. A foodfight at a Chicago school ended in 25 arrests. Because 11 year olds need to be held accountable fo felonious use of pudding.
School officials, under the blind, deaf and remarkably dumb hand of zero tolerance have made anything that could be contextualized in some way as a crime into a full on, real crime with over the top reactions and punishments as a result. Metal bracelets have been banned from schools because they could be considered weapons. Plastic bracelets were banned because they may have had sexual meanings (which they didn’t). Rubber bands have been banned due to their use in the creation of projectile weaponry. Special education students in Florida were arrested and charged with a felony after drawing stick men being stabbed. A third grader drew a picture of his brother, a soldier in the US Army serving in Afghanistan, and was suspended because the drawing depicted a gun.
Despite how, for years, stories like these have hit the news and made every teacher, principal and school board look completely out of touch and completely stupid, no one has made a move to change policy until just now. The Suffolk school board in Suffolk, Virginia, after reviewing the case of two boys who were suspended for pretending their pencils were guns, pointing them at each other and making shooting noises, decided to get rid of zero tolerance. Now, in a stunning turn of events, school administrators will be able to decide on a case by case basis if something merits suspension or police involvement. Instead of a kid who brings a grenade to school getting the same punishment as a kid who draws a grenade, the principal can now decide to maybe not have the SWAT team show up.
Zero tolerance policies have been in US schools since 1994. That’s nearly 20 years of blanket stupidity, 20 years of education being cheapened by the implementation of idiotic and harsh extremism based on what is a fairly faulty logic to begin with – that by demonizing the smallest of crimes we prevent the bigger ones and create an orderly environment, an idea that falls apart in the face of the very nature of children and the way they act which is part of why they need to be taught the proper way to do things in the first place. Kids can be impulsive, irrational and illogical because they’re kids. They’re not mature yet, that’s kind of the point.
There isn’t actually evidence to support the use of zero tolerance in schools – its one redeeming feature, if it could be considered that – is that it doesn’t require effort. School officials get to be lazy by implementing it and not having to address any complexities at all. Studies have not indicated zero tolerance lowers drug use in schools, or violence. They offer no benefits at all beyond the thrill of reading another news story about how an idiot school board wrongly punished a child in an extreme and embarrassing way.
So one school board has abolished zero tolerance. In the past, courts have had to step in to tell school boards to chill the hell out and that they’re violating basic rights with their knee jerk reactions and foolish policies. Seems like it should be time for more school boards to get on top of this and stop treating all kids like scumbags; maybe encourage and reward the ones who came to school to learn and focus extra attention on those with problems and try to figure them out rather than just sending everyone off to the big house in fun-sized shackles.
Of course, to drop zero tolerance means more school board officials need to start thinking for themselves and who knows if that’s ever going to happen.