ZERO TOLERANCE DISCIPLINE POLICIES

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Casella pointed out that the Safe School Study made four important assertions. First, crime in the neighborhoods surrounding schools has been identified as a large contributor to violence in the schools.

Just what are 'zero tolerance' policies – and are they still common in America's schools?

Violence from the outside is being brought in behind school walls. Second, large class sizes also contribute. It is harder for teachers to manage large classrooms resulting in less student monitoring.


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Third, when school administration does not consistently enforce school policy, violence proliferates. Students pay less attention to school rules and, therefore, do not adhere to them. Lastly, the report claimed that the discipline policies established in many schools was discriminatory. As a result, more violence erupts in response to an unjust system.

Some now argue that school discipline policies, in response to violence issues, are biased and actually make matters worse. Marxist and critical theorists have addressed how biased systems contribute to school violence Casella, Essentially, views of violence are shaped by class experiences and the neighborhood in which one lives.


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  • To many, violence is viewed as a consequence of poverty. Duncan and Brooks-Gunn found that poor children are 2. This implies that poor neighborhoods are exposed to more violent episodes, which in turn, affect the school culture in those areas. Immigrants and minorities have been at the forefront when it comes to stereotypes with regard to violence Casella, Common attitudes are often racist and classist. Many individuals believe that only minorities and the poor commit violent acts.

    Some theorists argue that school violence is a protest against the inequities in the system, such as unequal distributions of educational funds and a curriculum that only caters to White middle-class individuals. Therefore, students are rebelling against schools, and each other, in order to voice their feelings of injustice. Fenning and Rose also attribute high rates of school suspension and expulsion rates to racism and bias, specifically institutional racism.


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    • School policies are often designed by individuals raised with White middle-class values and the assumption is made that all students are raised with a similar perspective. In their research, Fenning and Rose discovered that minority students were more likely to be suspended for nonviolent issues, such as class disruption and disrespecting teacher authority. Thus, these students are more likely to be punished because of teacher lack of behavior management, lack of connection with the teacher or school, or unclear classroom rules. Yet, when punishing students, schools fail to examine whether student disrespect could be the result of school factors as well.

      Delpit also believes that cultural differences between students and teachers cause increases in referrals, including discipline and special education, because of biases held by teachers. Delpit argues that schools are often structured from a White middle-class perspective and if teachers are not direct and clear in their expectations, students who do not come from a White or middle-class background are at a disadvantage. Students who are less knowledgeable of the rules are then more likely to be referred to the office and receive punishment, when in reality it was a result of cultural miscommunication.

      Despite legislative support for zero tolerance, the policy fails to show effectiveness Skiba, ; Casella, Skiba argues that the assumptions underlying zero tolerance have never been met and its purpose was never fulfilled. Initially, it was designed to be part of a comprehensive prevention program.

      Teachers warn zero tolerance discipline in schools is feeding mental health crisis

      However, many schools focused only on the punitive aspect and failed to implement prevention programs. Zero tolerance was not intended to work in isolation. School officials declared the hat out of bounds because the toy soldiers were carrying miniature guns. A 7-year-old New Jersey boy, described by school officials as "a nice kid" and "a good student," was reported to the police and charged with possessing an imitation firearm after he brought a toy Nerf-style gun to school.

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      The gun shoots soft ping pong-type balls. Things have gotten so bad that it doesn't even take a toy gun to raise the ire of school officials. A high school sophomore was suspended for violating the school's no-cell-phone policy after he took a call from his father, a master sergeant in the U. Army who was serving in Iraq at the time. A year-old New York student was hauled out of school in handcuffs for doodling on her desk with an erasable marker. In Houston, an eighth grader was suspended for wearing rosary beads to school in memory of her grandmother the school has a zero tolerance policy against the rosary, which the school insists can be interpreted as a sign of gang involvement.

      Six-year-old Cub Scout Zachary Christie was sentenced to 45 days in reform school after bringing a camping utensil to school that can serve as a fork, knife or spoon. And in Oklahoma, school officials suspended a first grader simply for using his hand to simulate a gun. What these incidents, all the result of overzealous school officials and inflexible zero tolerance policies, make clear is that we have moved into a new paradigm in America where young people are increasingly viewed as suspects and treated as criminals by school officials and law enforcement alike.

      Adopted in the wake of Congress' passage of the Gun-Free Schools Act, which required a one-year expulsion for any child bringing a firearm or bomb to school, school zero tolerance policies were initially intended to address and prevent serious problems involving weapons, violence and drug and alcohol use in the schools.

      ABC NEWS Zero Tolerance School Discipline Policies

      However, since the Columbine school shootings, nervous legislators and school boards have tightened their zero tolerance policies to such an extent that school officials are now empowered to punish all offenses severely, no matter how minor. Hence, an elementary school student is punished in the same way that an adult high school senior is punished. And a student who actually intends to harm others is treated the same as one who breaks the rules accidentally -- or is perceived as breaking the rules.

      For instance, after students at a Texas school were assigned to write a "scary" Halloween story, one year-old chose to write about shooting up a school. Although he received a passing grade on the story, school officials reported him to the police , resulting in his spending six days in jail before it was determined that no crime had been committed.

      Equally outrageous was the case in New Jersey where several kindergartners were suspended from school for three days for playing a make-believe game of "cops and robbers" during recess and using their fingers as guns. With the distinctions between student offenses erased, and all offenses expellable, we now find ourselves in the midst of what Time magazine described as a " national crackdown on Alka-Seltzer. In some jurisdictions, carrying cough drops, wearing black lipstick or dying your hair blue are actually expellable offenses.

      Zero tolerance (schools)

      Students have also been penalized for such inane "crimes" as bringing nail clippers to school, using Listerine or Scope , and carrying fold-out combs that resemble switchblades. A year-old boy in Manassas, Virginia, who accepted a Certs breath mint from a classmate, was actually suspended and required to attend drug-awareness classes, while a year-old boy who said he brought powdered sugar to school for a science project was charged with a felony for possessing a look-alike drug.

      Another year-old was handcuffed and jailed after he stomped in a puddle, splashing classmates. The American Bar Association has rightly condemned these zero tolerance policies as being "a one-size-fits-all solution to all the problems that schools confront. That rationale, however, falls apart on several counts. But, secondly, the longer you've been put out the more discouraged you become. A student who is suspended in the ninth grade — even just once — is twice as likely to drop out of school later.

      Students who are suspended are also more likely to wind up in the juvenile corrections system. Skiba said it's not just that kids who were headed for juvenile detention happen to get suspended on the way. It's that suspension itself appears to contribute to later trouble with the law.

      Take similar kids at similar schools who commit similar offenses. Suspend some but not others. The ones who are suspended are more likely to get suspended again, to drop out, and to get arrested. The act required states that get federal education money to pass zero-tolerance laws requiring the expulsion of any student who brought a weapon to school. But many states passed laws that went further, requiring suspension or expulsion for other offenses, too. Some school districts created zero-tolerance policies calling for suspension or expulsion for fighting, drugs, smoking, defiant behavior, tardiness and even truancy.

      But that thinking didn't make sense to Skiba. A tenet of behavioral psychology is that punishment alone can't shape appropriate behavior, he said. He and other researchers started looking at data from a large Midwestern school district, "and began to see some troubling patterns in that data," Skiba said.

      Does zero tolerance help or harm students of color?

      The majority of suspensions were not for the most serious offenses but rather for more minor behaviors. And we began to see a huge racial gap. Kids of color were more likely to be suspended than white children. Skiba looked at other studies and found the same result.

      Skiba says there's not much difference between black and white students when it comes to concrete offenses, such as bringing a weapon to school. But when the infraction is something that's in the eye of the beholder — something like loitering, disrespect, or threatening behavior — black students are more likely than white students to be suspended.

      Other researchers have found similar results.

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