Have Public Schools Gone Zero-Tolerance Crazy?

One incident after another hitting the headlines has parents wondering: Have public schools gone overboard with the zero-tolerance approach that treats minor infractions as major problems? Perhaps it’s time to rethink, and allow educators the freedom to assess a situation and handle it according to its particular circumstances.

While zero-tolerance programs are often touted as a way to ensure that schools aren’t treating one child differently than another, it doesn’t seem that they actually are evenly enforced. Take, for instance, the recent story in which parents said a school had gone too far when their daughters’ school pictures were altered to cover bare shoulders and raise necklines.

Not only does it appear that alterations were applied only to female students, leading many to question the school’s message about body image, but they were not even applied uniformly to young women.

In the past year-and-a-half, schools have increased regulations regarding guns, leading to such silly incidents as children being suspended over a bubble gun (which wasn’t even present, only mentioned) or a breakfast pastry bitten into a vaguely gun-like shape.

Both of these incidents occurred just over a year ago, and there was a great deal of public outcry, so it would seem that by now, schools would have corrected these policies in response to parents’ complaints.

Unfortunately, the school in the breakfast pastry incident is still standing its ground, as of a meeting early this month, though the parents want the incident gone from their child’s record.

In fact, more and more parents are calling for a change. The Columbus Dispatch reports that Ohio parents, students, and advocates held a rally earlier this month in support of new laws that would eliminate the excess of punishment that has gone hand-in-hand with these no-wiggle-room rules.

Perhaps parents are finally beginning to get through to public school officials, though: NPR reports that some schools are starting to move away from punishments toward mediation where possible.

Unfortunately, public schools are often slow to change their policies, and having the policies gone won’t undo the damage already done to children, such as the one in this KPVI News report, who was suspended for “bullying” when she, according to accounts, hit back at her own attacker in self-defense.

Perhaps zero-tolerance policies were initially implemented to avoid favoritism and discrimination, but it seems that instead public schools have gone in the other direction, using these rules to severely punish minor infractions from some students, while looking the other way for others. It’s time to eliminate these policies, and allow school administrators to use reasonable discretion, for the students’ sake.

[photo credit: Max Klingensmith via photopin cc]