No Tolerance for Zer0 Tolerance

In the majority of schools across the country, “zero tolerance” policies have been set in place. Dealing with various issues such as bullying, drugs, alcohol, and weapons, these policies usually state that any involvement with such conduct or items will result in immediate punishment and not be tolerated. In our constantly changing and busy world, when problems arise, “band aid fixes” are often offered as a substitute for real examination and analysis (Badge Guys). With firm consequences and a “one size fits all” idea, these policies treat all infractions in the same way. While removing the idea that any of these bad behaviours or illegal items are allowed in a school environment is a good idea, the reality is that immediately removing students with suspensions and expulsions leads to the increase of delinquency and guarantees that the student is being removed from positive social reinforcement and even not being educated further.
This past week in Texas, 17 year old Chaz Seale packed his lunch in a rush while talking to his mother in the morning. After running out the door for school, Chaz later discovered that he had accidently grabbed a Coors Light Beer can instead of a Diet Coke. Thinking his best option would be to tell the truth, Chaz took the beer to the teacher, completely unopened, and explained his story. Rather than being scolded or lightly punished for his mistake that he was completely honest about, Chaz was suspended for three days and has been sent to an alternative school for sixty days, the maximum amount allowed for his offense. Due to the zero tolerance policy, Chaz will have this simple mistake he made and later tried to correct in the most honest way possible stamped onto his permanent record. He is appealing the punishment with his mother, but if there was a more “grey” area, rather than just black and white policy, he would not be in the situation as it is (Barguiarena).
Two weeks ago in Tennessee, high school senior David Duren-Sanner was pulled outside to the parking lot during a random car search. When asked if he had anything to hide in his truck, which is actually his father’s that he sometimes drives to school, David replied that he did not have any knowledge of any contraband that would cause any problems but did state that his father could have left snuff. When the officials searched the car, a fishing knife was found; David’s father is a commercial fisherman on the West Coast and explained where it could have been left. David’s school then sentenced him a ten day suspension, the maximum allowed, and has given him a 90 day sentence in alternative school. Another prime example of why a “grey” area is needed instead of zero tolerance policies; while knives should not be present on a school campus, is it not a little more understandable if a student drives their parents’ car who happens to be a professional fisherman who uses these knives daily? If David’s school does not appeal his punishment, he will not be allowed to attend his JROTC Ball or Graduation, and might not even be allowed to graduate. To top all of this, zerohe might even be charged with a weapon charge from the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department (News5).

Many experts of education and psychology have weighed in on the issue and believe that educators are making things too strict on children. Pennsylvania psychologist and family physician Dr. Leonard Sax stated that “zero tolerance policies are psychotic, in the strict sense of the word: ‘out of touch with reality’”. Children are being disciplined across the country for what has always seemed innocent playing around. In a Washington state elementary school earlier this month, a group of students were suspended for using Nerf Guns as part of a math class demonstration, even though they had received permission from their teacher. In March, a second grader in Maryland was suspended after he bit a PopTart into the shape of what appeared to be a gun. Another five year old in Maryland brought a orange capped gun onto a school bus and was grilled for two hours about it by his school principal, eventually wetting his pants out of fear. In South Carolina, a six year old girl was expelled from her elementary school for bringing a toy gun. In Philadelphia, a fifth grade girl was ridiculed in front of her entire class for having a piece of paper her grandfather had given her that was folded into a shape similar to a gun. All of these simple acts show the common overreaction by school administrations and their zero tolerance policies. While the intentions are good, Sax comments that there are “more effective ways to encourage good behaviour and to discourage criminal behaviour” (Chiaramonte).

While Zero Tolerance policies were initially set out to have positive reinforcement, they have become a negative blanket covering over all major and minor violations in the same way. A grey area needs to be found instead of just black and white results with issues and more depth needs to be examined in each individual case. Children in schools need to learn right from wrong, but also need to benefit from building on successes and learning with support from peers and positive leaders. Administrators need to learn to put effort into dealing with each unique case and become more creative with resolving each case in order to help both parents and children with each issue.

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