Zero Tolerance, Suspensions, and Expulsions
USA Today has an article by Marian Elias titled "At schools, less tolerance for 'no tolerance'."
"Zero tolerance" discipline policies that are enforced widely in U.S. schools are backfiring: They may be promoting misbehavior and making students feel more anxious, the American Psychological Association (APA) said Wednesday.
The group called for more flexibility and common sense in applying the policies, reserving zero tolerance for the most serious threats to school safety.
Zero-tolerance policies spread in the 1990s as a tool to fight drug use and violence on campuses. Schools often suspend or expel students for having weapons or drugs, which can include over-the-counter medicine, says educational psychologist Cecil Reynolds of Texas A&M University. Verbal threats, fighting or sexual harassment also can get kids booted, he says. "There are cases such as the kindergarten boy who hugged two classmates. His teacher reported him for sexual harassment, and he was suspended."
"The 'one-size-fits-all' approach isn't working. Bringing aspirin to school is not the same as bringing cocaine. A plastic knife isn't the same as a handgun," Reynolds says.
Principals who want to be flexible "may be caught in a catch-22," says Richard Flanary of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. If school boards set rigid policies, principals who defy them risk losing their jobs. "Then they're bashed in the press for overreacting to kids' misbehavior."
I understand the purpose of "no tolerance," but anytime we try to handle situations by setting up hard and fast policies we get ourselves into trouble, as the examples given in this article point out. We have become so afraid that someone is going to make a decision that we don't like that we feel like we have to lock them into something. Although bad decisions will happen from time to time, I really think we can do a lot better by hiring good people (teachers and principals) and allowing them to use their common sense to make decisions.
The APA also had this to say about suspension and expulsion rates in schools.
Kids feel less safe and perform worse academically in schools with high suspension or expulsion rates, even taking into account students' income levels, the association's report says. Also, students' higher suspension rates predict higher rates of future misbehavior and school failure compared with classmates who weren't suspended for similar misdeeds, Reynolds says.
This paragraph implies that suspending or expelling misbehaving students is generally a bad thing. I think that is a ridiculous conclusion. Of course, kids feel less safe in schools with high suspension and expulsion rates. People who live in high-crime areas also feel less safe, but it's not because too many criminals are being sent to jail; it's because there's a lot of crime.
And regarding the differences between kids who were and were not suspended for similar misdeeds, the kids who were suspended had probably been more trouble before. Suspension is usually not the first action that a principal takes when dealing with a misbehaving student. The incident that draws the suspension is frequently the straw that broke the camel's back.
Although I thoroughly agree with this article's point that principals need to be given more discretion in dealing with student misbehavior, I can't swallow any argument that discipline in schools is too strict and that we need to be more tolerant. Puh-lease!