More Schools Reconsidering Zero Tolerance Policies And On-Campus Law Enforcement
from the the-overdue-reemergence-of-common-sense dept
We’ve written several times about the ridiculous and tragic outcomes of school zero tolerance policies, especially when enforced by “resource officers” (the more child-friendly term for law enforcement officers deployed in schools).
Zero tolerance policies have been on the rise since the mid-90’s, thanks to the War on Drugs. High profile school shootings over the past decade have only made these policies worse, as did tying school funding to certain enforcement measures. The problem with these policies is they remove any nuance from discipline, leading to a pop tart bitten into the shape of a gun being treated with the same severity as an actual weapon.
These policies don’t solely affect drug and gun possession. They have also been rewritten to cover many other infractions, thanks to the (perceived) rise in bullying and cyberbullying. The end result has been an increase in suspensions, expulsions and arrests, frequently over disciplinary problems that would have been handled in a more rational fashion (and by school administrators, rather than LEOs) before these policies were put in place.
It now appears some schools around the nation are realizing these policies have done more harm than good.
Faced with mounting evidence that get-tough policies in schools are leading to arrest records, low academic achievement and high dropout rates that especially affect minority students, cities and school districts around the country are rethinking their approach to minor offenses.
Perhaps nowhere has the shift been more pronounced than in Broward County’s public schools. Two years ago, the school district achieved an ignominious Florida record: More students were arrested on school campuses here than in any other state district, the vast majority for misdemeanors like possessing marijuana or spraying graffiti.
By removing administrators’ ability to tailor punishments to the student by considering extenuating circumstances, zero tolerance policies have demanded a perverse form of consistency that results in large numbers of suspensions and arrests. Now, schools are starting to realize that these actions only lead to further problems and further separation of at-risk students from an education.
Rather than push children out of school, districts like Broward are now doing the opposite: choosing to keep lawbreaking students in school, away from trouble on the streets, and offering them counseling and other assistance aimed at changing behavior.
These alternative efforts are increasingly supported, sometimes even led, by state juvenile justice directors, judges and police officers.
Throwing kids into an already-congested criminal system and crippling their future for minor violations is a very strange way to turn them into educated and useful adults. For many schools, zero tolerance policies have shifted their focus from education to enforcement, to the detriment of their students. When a school becomes a rough approximation of a prison, the students will suffer, as has been evidenced by years of declining test scores.
“What you see is the beginning of a national trend here,” said Michael Thompson, the director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center. “Everybody recognizes right now that if we want to really find ways to close the achievement gap, we are really going to need to look at the huge number of kids being removed from school campuses who are not receiving any classroom time.”
This push towards a more discretionary approach to discipline is not just coming from parents and faculty. It’s coming from up top, as well.
Beginning in 2009, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education aggressively began to encourage schools to think twice before arresting and pushing children out of school. In some cases, as in Meridian, Miss., the federal government has sued to force change in schools.
In Broward County, some immediate results of the shift away from zero tolerance have already been observed.
School-based arrests have dropped by 41 percent, and suspensions, which in 2011 added up to 87,000 out of 258,000 students, are down 66 percent from the same period in 2012, school data shows.
All of this adds up to at-risk students spending more time in classrooms and getting additional assistance to work through their problems. It’s certainly not going to turn every student around but it has an infinitely higher chance of doing so than the normal “processing” (i.e., suspend/cuff/expel) did previously.
Hopefully, Broward County’s success will be sustained and prompt others to reconsider their policies. This sort of change would go far towards turning our schools back into schools, rather than the glorified juvenile detention centers zero tolerance policies turned them into.