Administration Calls For Schools To Limit Use Of Zero Tolerance Policies, Police Officers For Routine Student Discipline

from the still-a-long-way-to-go dept

The damage done by zero tolerance policies has been covered here several times. Recently, we noted more schools were dropping these policies in favor of something more nuanced and leaving fewer routine disciplinary problems in the hands of on-campus police officers. The positive effects of these actions were immediately noticeable. Broward County, Florida schools witnessed a 41% drop in arrests in a 66% drop in suspensions after their zero tolerance policies were abandoned.

Now, the administration itself is addressing the damage done by these policies. The US Department of Education has issued guidelines aimed at rolling back zero tolerance policies, which have made it even harder for at-risk students to have a shot at receiving an education.

The secretary of education, Arne Duncan, and the attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., released a 35-page document that outlined approaches — including counseling for students, coaching for teachers and disciplinary officers, and sessions to teach social and emotional skills — that could reduce the time students spend out of school as punishment.

“The widespread use of suspensions and expulsions has tremendous costs,” Mr. Duncan wrote in a letter to school officials. “Students who are suspended or expelled from school may be unsupervised during daytime hours and cannot benefit from great teaching, positive peer interactions and adult mentorship offered in class and in school.”
The documents note that nearly 25% students with disabilities have been suspended, despite making up only 12% of school attendees. In addition, the DOE's research found that black students were being suspended three times as often as white students. The documents also point to the troubling rise of routine infractions being handed over to police officers, which has resulted in a steady stream of kids spending time in court, rather than in school.

A statement by Attorney General Eric Holder addressed this last issue specifically.
“A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct,” Mr. Holder said in a statement.
(A nice thought from Eric Holder, but perhaps he could consider extending that leniency to non-violent drug offenders, kids saying stupid stuff who get rung up on "terroristic threat" charges and others similarly trapped in an overbearing justice system.)

The DOJ and Dept. of Education have been pushing for changes along these lines since 2009, but this is first time the two have issued such direct guidance urging an overhaul of bad disciplinary policies. Unfortunately, plenty of resistance is expected from schools whose policies are deeply entrenched. (Not that this is completely their fault -- the government tied school funding to zero tolerance weapons policies years ago, which greatly encouraged the spread of "zero tolerance" to other, less potentially dangerous actions.)
“Resistance can make implementing alternatives a difficult course to chart for school leaders,” said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, which represents district superintendents. “Meanwhile, funds to improve school climate and train school personnel in alternative school discipline can be scarce in today’s economic climate.”
Further complicating this return to common sense are other roadblocks erected by the DOE itself.
Professor [James] Forman Jr. [clinical professor at Yale Law School] added that because school accountability systems focus on student test scores and other academic measures, rather than on reducing suspensions, schools might not have much incentive to keep troubled students in class.
This is a step back on a path towards true accountability in school discipline, something some administrators are in no hurry to implement. The agency's guidance removes the safety net of handing the decision-making over to broad policies and law enforcement officers in order to claim any overreaction is "out of their hands."

There's no easy fix here, even with the agency's suggestions. On paper, students who are truly problematic don't appear much different than students who occasionally do stupid things. Subtleties will continue to be overlooked as policies are adjusted, occasionally taking out the good with the bad. But this is an important step to take. It's been obvious for years that making discipline decisions using the binary of zero tolerance (and turning it over to police officers as swiftly as possible) has done little to make schools better or safer. Instead, it has resulted in hundreds of cases of inappropriate punishments and kids with court records rather than diplomas.





Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jan 16th, 2014 @ 1:54am

    This can't go on unchecked! All these little terrorists.. Students! Are a threat to national security if very strict measures are not taken! /sarc

     

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  2.  
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    Jeff Woods (profile), Jan 16th, 2014 @ 5:00am

    lies, damn lies, and statistics

    The documents note that nearly 25% students with disabilities have been suspended, despite making up only 12% of school attendees.
    What do those 2 statistics have to do with each other? Let's see: 25% of 12% means that 3% of the attendees are disabled and were suspended. It says nothing about what percentage of attendees without disabilities were suspended.
    In addition, the DOE's research found that black students were being suspended three times as often as white students.
    Is that three times as high a percentage, or three times as many students? If there are three times as many black students as white students then they were suspended at the same percentage.

    Nonetheless I fully support the rollback of reactionary policies that have accumulated due to multiple iterations of "What about the children?!"

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2014 @ 5:30am

    SHOCKER!!!

    It figures that the only way to get a liberal to see the light on one of their "Zero Tolerance" bad ideas is for them to notice that same bad idea harming the subject of another idea they hold more dear! Minorities... its now hurting them! We have to stop punishing people!

    Sadly, the only time I am seeing this administration do the right thing, is when it is for the wrong reason!

    But I still welcome some sanity, despite coming from an unusual place.

     

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  4.  
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    Prashanth (profile), Jan 16th, 2014 @ 5:32am

    Drop in arrests and suspensions

    If zero-tolerance policies calling for quick suspensions and/or arrests in response to even more minor infractions are rolled back, it would seem obvious to me that suspensions and arrests should drop. Unless there's another statistic that I'm missing, I fail to see how that alone is any more than a marginally positive change. (That said, I do support getting rid of zero-tolerance policies. What I'm asking is for evidence that getting rid of those policies hasn't increased the number of reported incidents that would have resulted in suspensions or arrests under zero-tolerance policies, and separately hasn't increased the number of reported incidents that would result in suspensions or arrests even without zero-tolerance policies.)

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2014 @ 5:49am

    It's ironic that the federal government is telling locally-governed school systems to use police less often and be more lenient when it comes to doling out punishments. The same federal government that does the exact opposite of what it preaches. Federal police agencies have been expanding and up-arming at an explosive rate, and the Feds are famous for scorched-earth prosecutions of petty violations.

    But like always, it's another case of "Do as we say, not as we do."

     

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  6.  
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    Geno0wl (profile), Jan 16th, 2014 @ 6:13am

    I see plenty of resistance to then turning the clock back. Not only does it potentially keep "trouble" kids out of class(and out of their hair) but it also absolves them of personal responsibility.
    Every time some ridiculous punishment happens, they can use the ZTPs as a shield against criticism.
    "What do you mean that punishment was ridiculous? That is the school policy and if you have a problem go talk to the scapegoat!"
    If people in power love anything more than power it is the ability to blame all their woes on somebody else.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2014 @ 6:23am

    Re: lies, damn lies, and statistics

    Fox News viewers are confused by numbers, all they want to know is whether it is a good thing or a bad thing.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2014 @ 6:30am

    Re: SHOCKER!!!

    "the only way to get a liberal to see the light on one of their "Zero Tolerance" bad ideas"

    Ahem ... fwiw - Zero Tolerance Policy was and remains a conservative policy.

    For your edification, I give you the following

    The term "Zero Tolerance" appeared for the first time in a report in 1994.[6][7] The idea behind this expression can be traced back to the Safe and Clean Neighborhoods Act, approved in New Jersey in 1973,[8][9] of which inherits the same underlying assumptions.[8][10][11] The ideas behind the 1973 New Jersey policy were later popularized in 1982, when a popular magazine published the broken windows theory of crime.

    In 1982, conservatives James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling formulated their theory in the article Broken Windows,[9] published in The Atlantic Monthly, a U.S. cultural magazine.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero_tolerance

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2014 @ 6:39am

    Re:

    "Not only does it potentially keep "trouble" kids out of class"

    Yes, let's pick on the "troubled kids" because it is soo easy - right? Here's a clue for ya, zero tolerance policies also keeps some honors students out of class, is this really a desirable outcome?


    ".. they can use the ZTPs as a shield against criticism."

    That policy hardly shields the much warranted criticism.


    "If people in power love anything more than power it is the ability to blame all their woes on somebody else"

    Is this because the ZTPs do not apply to them?

     

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  10.  
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    Rocco Maglio (profile), Jan 16th, 2014 @ 7:16am

    Use race as a criteria

    The guidelines also tell schools to look at race to make sure they are not disproportionally suspending african american children. The goal should be to foster a environment where kids can learn. If a child is disruptive and not interested in learning the school needs to be able to remove that child from school. Additionally, I am sure majority of students that are suspended are male, so by this logic we should take that into account and make sure we suspend an equal percentage of female.The only reason this is not mentioned is that males are not a minority (they are less than 50%, but not a minority).

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2014 @ 8:02am

    Re: lies, damn lies, and statistics

    Damn, you beat me to the punch here. Some of those statistics are completely unusable and devoid of context.

     

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  12.  
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    Coyne Tibbets (profile), Jan 16th, 2014 @ 9:22am

    Finally Recognizing Real Aim of Zero Tolerance

    Finally, the DOE officially notices the real aim of Zero Tolerance, which was, of course, to provide for easy elimination of "undesirables".

    That and the other schools program, "No [Desirable] Child Left Behind", were never really intended for any other purpose.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2014 @ 9:59am

    Re: Re: SHOCKER!!!

    While that may be true, the source of an idea is not the problem here. It is the poor use of the idea that is the problem.

    Mayhap you seem to think I am pure conservative and decided to defend the liberals? I hate both Liberal & Conservative views that are dogmatically followed by their sheep. Zero Tolerance regardless of where it was born is being heavily loved up by more liberals than conservatives in the public sector. Or are you going to say education is largely conservative with all of its unions and such?

    I could be a liberal, invent a spoon and then lambast all of the conservatives for using it... but if conservatives used that spoon to eat soup while the liberals use it to gouge eyes.... well that kinda tells you something. The usage of the tool is more important than whom created it or its original intention. Liberals are using this tool unwisely... nuff'said!

    It tells you that you have poor comprehension skills and need to leave your straw-man collection at home!

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Joe Dirt, Jan 16th, 2014 @ 10:18am

    Re: Re: Re: SHOCKER!!!

    That!

    Also It seems that some are missing the bigger picture. While I disagree with them on principle, Zero Tolerance policies are color blind. It applies equally to all who commit the offence. As such, how is it possible that it is adversely affecting one group more than another?
    The only answer is that the policies are biased. They unfairly target groups based on their cultural differences. Just look at how boys play... they play games like Cops and Robbers, or Cowboys and Indians. They are constantly using toys and other items(pop tarts, fingers) as imaginary weapons. Therefore, more than any other group, boys are being disproportionately targeted just for being boys!
    This MUST STOP NOW!

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Edward, Jan 16th, 2014 @ 10:41am

    Zero Tolerance != Education

    Any parent will tell you that in 99% of the cases, meting out "zero tolerance" punishments does absolutely nothing to educate the child. It teaches them to view the world in binary, which is a great disservice.

    The purpose of schools is to *educate*, and it's important that children learn about appropriate and escalating consequences. I'm not talking about "Johnny brought his father's handgun to school", which should be dealt with appropriately. But zero-tolerance treats "Johnny drew a handgun" the same way, which is a stupid message to send our kids.

     

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  16.  
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    Sheogorath (profile), Jan 16th, 2014 @ 3:29pm

    "A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct,” Mr. Holder said in a statement.
    It would have been nice if Eric Holder had added, [...] and an infraction should consist of genuinely disruptive or dangerous behavior, not kids pointing fingers at each other and shouting "Bang, bang" during recess. Just sayin'.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2014 @ 6:03pm

    Re: Re: Re: SHOCKER!!!

    "Zero Tolerance regardless of where it was born is being heavily loved up by more liberals than conservatives"

    citation needed


    "are you going to say education is largely conservative with all of its unions and such"

    What?
    Zero Tolerance Policy is implemented through the administrative branch of school districts which are typically "managed" by the local school board. These political bodies are predominately populated by non union people who lean toward the conservative "get tough on crime" point of view. The union busting activity attacking teacher unions is driven by the conservative agenda against the so called liberal teachers.

    Not sure what your spoon analogy is all about, but as most analogies go - it is bad.

    Yes, that must be it - I have poor comprehension skills. That would explain why I think you are full of shit.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2014 @ 6:06pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: SHOCKER!!!

    "The only answer is that the policies are biased."

    Yeah, there is only one answer.
    How about the policy is stupid?
    Why is this answer not possible?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2014 @ 6:09pm

    Re: Use race as a criteria

    "I am sure majority of students that are suspended are male"

    You are sure about this and yet lack any reference in support of said claim.


    " .. make sure we suspend an equal percentage of female"

    What a great idea - not.
    wtf is the matter with you?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2014 @ 6:14pm

    Clearly, zero tolerance policy is an integral part of the school to prison pipeline. This unique approach to supply side economics provides a constant flow of new inmates for our privatized prison system thus providing a nice dividend for its shareholders.

    You don't think this is the case? Do some research. It is appalling.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    Sheogorath (profile), Jan 18th, 2014 @ 10:35am

    Re:

    Links or it didn't happen.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 18th, 2014 @ 1:00pm

    Re: Re:

    You do know how to use search engines - right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    icon
    Sheogorath (profile), Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 12:28am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Of course. Can you suggest a good search term to use?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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