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Zero-Sum Game

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Despite continuing concerns about school safety, some state lawmakers are questioning zero-tolerance policies on weapons, alcohol, and drugs in schools, saying they can unfairly punish students who have harmless intentions. “A machete is not the same as a butter knife. A water gun is not the same as a gun loaded with bullets,” says former school board member and Rhode Island Sen. Daniel Issa, who is sponsoring a bill that would allow school districts in his state to decide punishments for student violations on a case-by-case basis. Stories of the no-tolerance laws gone too far are widespread. For example, according to the Associated Press, a Rhode Island kindergartener was suspended after bringing a plastic knife to school to cut cookies. Ditto for a Utah student who gave his cousin some cold medicine. Utah recently changed its drug policy so that asthmatic students were allowed to carry inhalers. The American Bar Association, the American Psychological Association, and some parents have spoken out against zero-tolerance policy. “You’re dealing with individuals,” said Christine Duckworth, a mother of a recently graduated high school student in Rhode Island. “How can you possibly apply one law to every single person and their circumstances?”

4 Comments

Although not mentioned in the article, an additional problem with zero tolerance is the disproportionate effect on students with disabilities who are sent into the juvenile justice system for breaches that are entirely consistent with disabilities that are defined by poor judgement, difficulty in understanding social situations and understanding the connection between actions and consequences. While IDEA may offer some protection--the amount of time that it may take to file for Due Process and make it through a hearing where competing experts debate the student's ability to form intent, understand that a toy gun is regarded as the same thing as a real gun, and resist the impulse to stick the toy into a pocket make it a very blunt tool. In the end, when one reads some of these processes, you have to wonder why some adult didn't have the native intelligence to say, "give that to me and sit down in this chair until we can discuss why that wasn't a smart thing to do."

Zero tolerance is for zero brainers. It is intolerant of individual differences and developmental levels and is a supreme insult to professional educators while allowing the ones who have missed their calling to hide behind "the rules".

A sure way to run a professional off is to tell her that she is not capable of using professional judgment.

Zero tolerance has decreased respect for teachers and education administrators as well. It has made us a laughingstock on the national news. Why respect teachers when they demonstrate that they don't know how to discipline children in appropriate ways? If the Central Office thinks teachers are too stupid to make a decision, they must be.

Remember the kindergartner who was suspended for kissing a classmate? You would have thought he was a teenager who grabbed a girl's breasts in class. He got exactly the same punishment. How about the little girl in Cobb County Georgia who was suspended because her change purse had, God help us!, a three inch chain on it. Zero tolerance kicked her out too.

There are a lot of factors that cause teachers to leave education. Being called too stupid to make a professional decision should not be one of them. It is time and past time for Zero Tolerance to go, and, of course for NCLB, the greatest of all professional insults, to follow.

I am 100% behind the Zero Tolerance Policy. The times have come to reorient Americans to a more ethical mindset which does not exist today. The old criticism of 'permissiveness' applies here. Permissiveness has led us down a road where respect and orderly conduct are considered 'optional'. The whole issue of 'self-esteem' has created generations of people who consider themselves 'unique' even if they have few redeeming social or human values. This country is going to the dogs.

I am 100% behind the Zero Tolerance Policy. The times have come to reorient Americans to a more ethical mindset which does not exist today. The old criticism of 'permissiveness' applies here. Permissiveness has led us down a road where respect and orderly conduct are considered 'optional'. The whole issue of 'self-esteem' has created generations of people who consider themselves 'unique' even if they have few redeeming social or human values. This country is going to the dogs.

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  • Richard Spurgeon: I am 100% behind the Zero Tolerance Policy. The times read more
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