Some Schools Rolling Back On Zero Tolerance Polices

My opinion of zero-tolerance policies has always been low, seeing them as the last refuge of the incompetent, lazy, or lawsuit-shy school administrators.

Now it appears that after over 10 years of increasingly draconian zero tolerance polices, the trend is reversing itself, with schools loosening their policies or abandoning them all together. Some of the reasons for this are easy to figure out, with the main one being the policies have hurt far more students than they have ever helped. It could also be the lawsuits, investigations, and ridicule being heaped upon those who created and enforced those policies over the years. But it can all be boiled down this: They. Don't. Work.

The American Psychological Association reported in a 2008 journal article that research has found no evidence that zero-tolerance policies have a deterrent effect or keep schools safer.

Over the years, “zero-tolerance” has described discipline policies that impose automatic consequences for offenses, regardless of context. The term also has come to refer to severe punishments for relatively minor infractions. Some schools boast of using zero-tolerance; others insist that they do nothing of the sort.

It would be great if all school systems were dialing back the use of zero tolerance policies, but that isn't the case. Instead, some are becoming even harsher, creating even more backlash and more discipline problems. It sounds almost like the old saw, “Beatings will continue until morale improves!”

Some school systems zero tolerance policies have devastating effects on students caught up in them, damaging or destroying otherwise good kids in the name of discipline. In some cases, those closed-minded policies have killed, with students taking their own lives after being run through the ringer for what would otherwise be a minor infraction.

Fairfax [Virginia] parents tell stories of going into the process without an attorney and finding their children under fire at adversarial hearings. These families contend there is no impartial judge but instead a presumption of guilt. They say there is little discussion of a student's well-being, psychological state or the cause of the misconduct.

"The parents feel very often that they are in the middle of criminal prosecution - that there is no balance or context and the facts are skewed to the negative," said Bill Reichhardt, a Fairfax lawyer whose firm has handled more than 100 school discipline hearings in Virginia.

It sounds more a like kangaroo court, where even if you should happen to be innocent, you are still guilty. Can there be any question whether these policies do far more harm that good? Who are these policies supposed to be helping – the administrators? Or the students? It certainly appears from here the answer is the former, with the latter relegated to scholastic (and social) purgatory.

Is it any wonder more parents might want to send their kids to private schools or home school them so they won't have to subject them to such a nightmarish code of discipline? (I guess I must also conclude they'll also do so to ensure their kids also get a decent education, something these zero tolerance policies do not guarantee, but you get my point...I hope.)

It's time to end the reign of zero tolerance policies for they serve no one well, claims to the contrary notwithstanding.