Not that long ago, students would be sent to the principal's office as the ultimate penalty for breaking a rule, or in extreme cases, breaking the law. Nowadays however, discipline in schools is more complicated. In response to the current fear of school-related violent incidents, many schools have recently enacted what are called "zero tolerance (ZT) policies." This term is commonly used to describe "a school discipline policy enacted by school officials that specifies a mandatory and strict punishment for engaging in activity that officials deem intolerable" usually with respect to guns, drugs, and violence. (The Rutherford Institute)
The well-publicized school shootings over the past years have heightened awareness of violence in schools and alarmed parents and professionals. Those feeling responsible have been left questioning what more they could have done to avoid tragedy. ZT policies represent an attempt at prevention, intervention, and avoidance of blame. The cry to do more is based on the belief that students, teachers, and parents need to feel safe to go about the business of education. Certainly schools and communities feel increasing pressure to have clear, strict rules that can be applied indiscriminately. Yet schools also hear the outrage if the policies are applied in too harsh a manner. Determining the most effective solutions means facing some difficult realities, making hard choices, but acting with compassion.
In the News
Four kindergarten children were suspended for three days after pointing their fingers at each other while playing cops and robbers. (The Patriot Ledger, April 18, 2000).
A fourth grader has been suspended and ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation after telling a classmate he was going to "shoot" another student with a wad of paper launched form a rubber band. (The New York Times, April 27, 2000).
A girl is booted out of school for 10 days in 1997 for chucking into her backpack a butter knife she had used to pry lunch money out of her piggy bank. (The Morning Call, January 23, 2000).
A Pennsylvania school's zero-tolerance policy that mandated a one-year suspension for students who bring weapons to school, was ruled unconstitutional. The verdict exonerated a 12-year-old student who was suspended for one year for filing his nails with a Swiss Army knife he found in a school hallway…[the judge] wrote that the policy "frustrates the clear legislative intent that this statute not be blindly applied."
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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