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.

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Comments on “More Schools Reconsidering Zero Tolerance Policies And On-Campus Law Enforcement”

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Anonymous Coward says:

“When a school becomes a rough approximation of a prison, the students will suffer, as has been evidenced by years of declining test scores. “

Schools are an approximation of real life, the education system is intended to teach students and children that life IS LAWS and rules and responsibilities, above all else (including math) schools create citizens who understand what living in a society is about, and that conduct and actions have repercussions.

Now that is not saying a zero tolerance policy is appropriate, but if that IS the policy it is pointless to argue “degrees of zero”, that only serves to tech the children that “NO does not necessilary mean NO”, or that if you think a rule is silly you don’t have to obey it.

Which is exactly the opposite to what schools are for, and what society expects of its citizens.

If it is a zero tolerance policy that means ZERO tolerance, it does not mean “a little bit of tolerance”, it is not appropriate to claim ‘zero does not mean zero’ if you think it is not much!

It is appropriate to teach that “a rule is a rule” agree with it or not, its the rule.

You have a right to argue to value or validity of the rule, but not the validity of breaking the rule.

Prisons are full of people who do not understand that basic fact, that a rule is a rule, even if you don’t agree with it, its the people who think ‘zero is not zero’ who end up in prison.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

How about ‘no’.

People need to be able and willing to challenge rules or even laws that they believe are unjust or ridiculous, otherwise things will never get better, only worse.

Teaching kids otherwise does nothing more than turn them into nice little drones that will always do what they’re told, a nasty situation for society and everyone but those making the rules and giving out the orders.

The whole idea behind ‘zero tolerance’ policies was a stupid one from the get-go, they might have well been called ‘zero thought’ policies, as that’s what they actually are, just a way for those implementing them to avoid having to actually deal with problems on an individual basis, and instead just treat everything, from minor to major, equally harshly, whether or not what actually happened merits it.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“You have a right to argue to value or validity of the rule, but not the validity of breaking the rule.”

The argument is about 2 things – first is that the rule itself is idiotic. The second is that applying true zero tolerance in these cases are leading not only to ridiculous outcomes but vast unintended consequences.

The example in the article about the pop tart is a great one. True, “zero tolerance” on weapons means that no weapon is tolerated. But what kind of idiot confuses a pastry with an actual weapon? What kind of person, let alone a child, would consider that particular rule before altering the shape of the baked good? Nobody. This rule does absolutely nothing to help with its intended purpose (keeping actual weapons away from school) but does plenty to destroy useful activities in other areas – what child is going to explore their creativity if they risk suspension and police involvement every time they do it?

It’s sad that your advice is to bow down and accept such stupidity silently rather than attempt to have rules that not only make some kind of sense, but are both enforceable and effective. No, you’d rather have silent compliance with even the most destructive and idiotic rules that nobody can know they’re breaking until someone’s tried applying them.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

From my experience, kids I knew that had very strict parents snapped at some point and went wild. Sending a kid to jail is ruining their future and pushing them towards underground jobs. It’s simple as that. We have judges precisely because even the law is not black and white, there are nuances. Ie: if I kill someone out of self-defense then the murder law doesn’t apply despite the fact that I knowingly killed them.

Also, a lot of changed sparked from the fact that people BROKE laws. Ie: the Apartheid (racism imposed by the law) or slavery.

Educate the children and it won’t be necessary to punish the men – Pythagoras

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If a school were to apply the exact same policies to teachers as the school applies to students, the wrath of God would land on that school.

Such policies violate labor laws, they violate the right to due process, they impose unconscionable restrictions on citizens without any plausible cause.

The US Supreme Court has ruled over and over and over and over and over that students ARE citizens and that they are not wholly stripped of the rights of citizens just because they enter a school. Especially if that school attendance is mandatory under the law.

You can’t train people to be good citizens by treating them in a way that is ILLEGAL to treat citizens, then claiming that your policies override every statute and the constitution itself so they’re perfectly legal. They’re not.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You do understand that if the US followed the rules they wouldn’t have a country coast to coast to begin with don’t you?

Probably not even a state called Texas.

Besides I double dog dare you cite every single rule that you have to follow right now and then again the next month and the next and the next since every month something changes.

Zero tolerance is even more idiotic when people don’t even know what rules they have to follow to begin with.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Schools are an approximation of real life, the education system is intended to teach students and children that life IS LAWS and rules and responsibilities, above all else (including math) schools create citizens who understand what living in a society is about, and that conduct and actions have repercussions.”

Yes, and this is why there is
1) bigotry in schools.
2) zero tolerance for the students
3) unaccountability for the administration
4) police raids and tasering
5) terrorist drills

The (including math) tells me you did poorly – amirite?

Philly Bob says:

Re: Re:

If there is a zero tolerance against drugs and you are caught with cocaine, yes, discipline is in order. But if you are caught with an aspirin and get expelled… then it’s idiotic. Get caught with a gun or a knife, fine, suspension, jail, whatever but when you bring a plastic knife to cut your lunch with or bite a pop tart into an “L” shape and get expelled from school… then someone is a total idiot, and it isn’t the kid! Remember when you were young and in Kindergarten and used to sneak up on little Sally and plant a kiss on her cheek??? Now you get expelled for rape and sexual harassment. Nice record to have at 5 years old huh?? It makes great money for law enforcement and the prison system though and we can walk around crowing about how we are doing the world good.

silverscarcat (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Zero tolerance is total BS.

In fact, has a couple of articles on it. – #1

Damn, it’s almost like common sense says that those Zero tolerance laws shouldn’t work.

But you know, common sense is so rare it’s a goddammed Super Power.

Right, Deadpool?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Schools are an approximation of real life

They are?? If that’s so, schools are failing even more than even their worst critics claim, since school is nothing like real life.

You have a right to argue to value or validity of the rule, but not the validity of breaking the rule.

I disagree completely. Which you can’t argue that breaking the rule is legal, in real life it can be very valid. bad laws, in real life, only get changed in two ways: wealthy or powerful people want it changed, or through civil disobedience.

If people never broke bad laws, most of the really bad laws we’ve shed would still be with us.

Just Sayin' says:

Zero Tolerance For Zero Responsiblity People

Zero tolerance programs come because the students (and many of the faculty, sadly) are unable to take control for their own actions. Students have no problems smoking a J at school or doing drugs, getting involved in illegal activity in general, and not treating their time at school as anything other than a way to get more business done.

It’s many times easier for a student to find a drug dealer than find a tutor, an after school activity, or even a balanced lunch. The hallways are more likely patrolled by the enforcers from one or more gangs getting territory, and less likely to be watched by school staff.

Because people cannot take responsibility and cannot show basic respect for each other and the institutions, zero tolerance policies and having law enforcement on site is the result.

You can trace a lot of things in modern life back to people not respecting the rights of others and not respecting societal norms. US society in particular is crumbling quickly, with the inner city mentality taking over… “don’t diss me or I will pop a cap into you, yo!” seems to be par for the course, reinforced by music, movies, TV, and day to day culture. The foundations of the greatness of the US is quickly eroding, melting like snow from the inside out so that when it does collapse, it seems sudden. It’s not.

(oh, and thanks to Mike and his vigilant crew for blocking my IP address again. It’s not a VPN, it’s really my IP. Deal with it, and stop being a censorship tool).

teka says:

Re: Zero Tolerance For Zero Responsiblity People

Your after-school TV special concept of public education, while charming, is as nuanced as.. I can’t even think of something that wrong. Nevermind.

Zero Thinking policies are not built to improve those problems you imagine. When you slam Little Timmy, Juan, Mary or Jamal into the alternative school because they were the victim of bullying, walked in the hall without a toilet pass, wore a shirt with a gun-toting patriotic soldier on it, or any other number of borderline activities, you are setting them on a course to dropout and criminal outcomes. This is strengthened when they are expelled completely and/or arrested on foolish charges.

There is no need for special no-thinking guidelines for dealing with a delinquent student striding through the halls carrying an axe and smoking a joint the size of a baseball bat, no matter how vivid your imagination.

Just Sayin' says:

Re: Re: Zero Tolerance For Zero Responsiblity People

There is no need for special no-thinking guidelines for dealing with a delinquent student striding through the halls carrying an axe and smoking a joint the size of a baseball bat, no matter how vivid your imagination.

That is where you are wrong. Most administrators have been burned badly by trying to deal with “the worst of the worst” to the point that they no longer want to do it. There is an acute shortage of teachers and administrators in many places because they do not want to work in an environment where they are at risk.

The only way to reclaim those schools is (sadly) to push “law and order” to try to keep the situations tolerable.

It’s not a zero thinking policy, nice attempt to simplify and insult all in one shot. You perhaps need to go visit some inner city schools and reconsider your answer. Very occassionally low tolerance programs do get comparatively innocent kids into trouble, but the whole “setting them on a course to dropout and criminal outcomes” is pretty much hand waving raving. Do you have anything to back this sort of thing up?

Richard (profile) says:

Reversing swing of pendulum...

From the “we’d-rather-look-stupidly-insensitive-than-be-legally-liable” department. Oh, wait – now we’re being held liable for looking stupid. Reverse that pendulum (for now)!

Presuming that some of the implied reforms occur in any generally noteworthy degree, these new non-zero tolerance policies will produce a few mistakes (“hey, this isn’t a ‘faux’ thug – it’s a real thug”). With non-zero, they’ll keep a few that zero would ‘a’ kicked. Some of these unkicked social maladroits will crush, kill, and destroy. The resulting what-were-you-thinking recriminations and associated lawsuits will arrest the pendulum and reverse its arc again.

School administrators need real authority to enforce reasonable standards with corresponding responsibility to make decisions without the risk of total legal destruction either personal or for their systems. As long as lawyers and their intestinally parasitic clients are permitted to circle the waters in the fashions that led to zero-tolerance, the swing is unlikely to establish a lasting change.

Until sanely adult balances between authority and responsibility are reflected in all levels of this equation, the pendulum will simply swing…just like it currently does with everything else.

Anonymous Coward says:

The solution for "zero tolerance" policies

Anyone advocating or implementing a “zero tolerance” policy should be executed on the spot. No trial, no appeal, no pity, no mercy: just instant death. This would help rid the planet of many of the worthless assholes who presently contaminate it with their filthy presence.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: The solution for "zero tolerance" policies

Anyone advocating or implementing a “zero tolerance” policy should be executed on the spot.

So in otherwords, they should proactively enact their own policy on themselves (since most “zero tolerance” policies don’t account for any due process either.) I like it. I wish it were true for the laws that get enacted by Congress too, that they must proactively enact the law they are about to pass on the rest of the world on themselves first. Would save us a lot of problems in the future.

trollificus (profile) says:

How about we NOT create any more students/citizens who have seen their “leaders” fall for the Labeling Fallacy: if things have the same designation, they are the same. Simple.

Rules is rules. Guns are guns. Sexual assault is sexual assault.

But a 19-year-old who has a 17 yo girlfriend with pissed-off parents is NOT the same as someone who sexually abuses a three-year-old. A pop tart in the shape of a gun, or a picture of a parent in the Armed forces with a government-issued gun, or a gun charm on a charm bracelet are NOT guns (and all are cases where a “Zero tolerance policy” was interpreted as requiring suspensions). And stupid rules are NOT what creates law-abiding citizens…good rules do.

These policies are to relieve teachers and administrators from having to exercise judgement, because judgement exercised may go wrong, and result in legal liability(read: excessively huge monetary settlements with greedy parents represented by greedy tort lawyers). Thus, the national epidemic bedeviling grade schools of students playing ‘doctor’ behind the bushes is dealt with by a Zero Tolerance policy for TOUCHING.

Because we wouldn’t want to pretend any of the specialists in pedagogy we employ in our schools can tell the difference between a hug or a pat on the back and a finger up the bung. Clearly they can’t and have to be saved, along with the state education budget, from having to make such judgements.

ZT policies should be ended because they are based on faulty logic and suspect motivations, and teach DISRESPECT for rules and laws. Which, given the constant drumbeat of rebel-worship from Hollywood and the media, is entirely unnecessary.

Anonymous Coward says:

But if we stop zero tolerance and stop punishing kids for throwing imaginary hand grenades we’ll have more school shootings!

This will just encourage imaginary bad guys to come into the schools firing imaginary machine guns at everyone, and throwing imaginary hand grenades!

(yes students have been suspended for throwing imaginary hand grenades and making a gun shape with their hand and pointing it at someone and saying ‘bang’)

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