Friday, September 2, 2016

Ending Zero Tolerance In School

zero tolerance
Adolescents, like adults, are disciplined for certain offenses with the hope that said offender will not do it again. It starts at a young age, a child does something wrong—a parent determines the appropriate punishment to mete out. Life is about standards and rules, if one falls short or breaks a rule, punishment follows suit. The hope, it seems, as that by the time adulthood rolls around, an individual will be an upstanding citizen.

Unfortunately, sometimes a punishment does not match the caliber of the offense—especially in American schools. Across the country, what is known as “zero tolerance” policies are in place at practically every public school. Zero tolerance policies were specifically directed towards drugs or weapons. Students found to have either are subject to either suspension or expulsion. While that type of policy would seem to make sense, such policies may actually do more harm than good.

A new book is coming out soon that explores the nature of zero tolerance, with the hope of starting a conversation that could put an end to draconian rules in public schools. Professor Derek W. Black’s “Ending Zero Tolerance: The Crisis of Absolute School Discipline,” highlights the flaws of zero tolerance punishments on school-aged children, according to the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Black teaches law at the University of Southern California. He writes:

“One of the most obvious flaws or irrationalities of zero tolerance and harsh discipline is that they lump so many dissimilar students in to the same groups. The first grader whose mother puts a cough drop in his backpack without him knowing is treated the same as the seventh grader who knows that cough drops are prohibited but brings them anyway because his throat hurts and he does not want to miss school. And the seventh-grade cough-drop smuggler is treated the same as the student who brings Advil to school and sells it. And the Advil-distributing student is treated the same as the student who sells steroids or marijuana to his classmates. They are all drug offenders according to their schools and subject to long-term suspension.”

The book covers a number of different areas, sourcing individual narratives, case law—and could prove to be an invaluable tool for both teachers and counselors. Hopefully, it will lead to more understanding and compassion when it comes to discipline in American schools.

“Harsh discipline practices,” writes Black, “are contrary to many of our many basic values, both social and legal.” 

Katie Walsh is an attorney in Orange County, California. Attorney Walsh concentrates her law practice on juvenile defense, criminal defense, and victim’s rights.

Contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh online or at 714-619-9355.