We have heard of the Columbine shooting, where in the spring of 1999 in Littleton, Colorado over a dozen people where killed and many others were wounded at the hands of two students. Or even more recently, we heard about the Virginia Tech massacre where a single student killed thirty-two people and wounded over twenty more. University of Texas, California State University, San Diego State University, the list of school violence is long and heart-breaking. Students and teachers have lost their lives by the dozens to gunmen that carried a grudge for some reason or another.
These are extreme cases, for sure, and there is without a doubt a need for discipline in schools every where. However, zero-tolerance policies are not the answer to school discipline unless they can be reformed to have fewer gray areas and kept from being too strict, be less disruptive to the education process and allow teachers to keep their voices, and figure out how to correct claims of racial discrimination, regardless of claims that they are effective.
I believe that the zero tolerance policy is very unfair because it punishes everyone for the problems of few. Even if you’re the best student in the school and have never taken any drugs or used any weapons except for the butter knife, you still have to feel uncomfortable as if you really have used drugs or weapons. For example, in the article by Jesse Katz, when it talks about the girl who got Midol to school and shared it with another girl with the sole purpose of easing menstrual cramps. Kimberly, the girl who had gotten the drug along with Erica, the girl that received the drug got a ten-day suspension. The parents of Kimberly got the district later on with a federal lawsuit for racial discrimination because the school suspended Kimberly, who is black, for 80 more days because she had the drug. Another example from the article of this unfairness would be the seventh grader from West Virginia who shared a zinc cough drop with his friend.
He also was suspended and I’m pretty sure that he didn’t mean to choke his friend to death. Another example would be the thirteen year-old girl who brought a bottle of Advil in her backpack and was detected by drug-sniffing dog. Things like these show the unfairness of something that doesn’t work. There have been many cases where zero-tolerance has gray areas and can be too strict. Another example from the article of this unfairness would be the seventh grader from West Virginia who shared a zinc cough drop with his friend. He also was suspended and I’m pretty sure that he didn’t mean to choke his friend to death. Another example would be the thirteen year-old girl who brought a bottle of Advil in her backpack and was detected by drug-sniffing dog. Things like these show the unfairness of something that doesn’t work. In “Zero Tolerance for School Violence: Is Mandatory Punishment in Schools Unfair?” Kathy Koch, an assistant managing editor, specializing in education and social-policy issues writes: “On a school bus last fall in rural Mississippi, five high school students passed the time on the long ride home by tossing peanuts at each other. But the fun ended when the driver got hit. She pulled over, called the police and had the boys arrested for assault, punishable by five years in prison.
The criminal charges were soon dropped, but the teenagers were suspended and lost their bus privileges. Unable to make the 30-mile trip to school, all five dropped out. But the strict, one-strike-and-you’re-out policies being imposed to nip school violence and misbehavior in the bud sometimes go too far, critics say. Other examples from the public school crime blotter: A 6-year-old boy in York, Pa., was suspended for carrying a pair of nail clippers to school. A second-grader in Columbus, Ohio, was suspended for drawing a paper gun, cutting it out and pointing it at classmates. A 12-year-old Florida boy was handcuffed and jailed after he stomped in a puddle, splashing classmates. A 13-year-old boy in Manassas, Va., who accepted a Certs breath mint from a classmate was suspended and required to attend drug-awareness classes. Jewish youths in several schools were suspended for wearing the Star of David, sometimes used as a symbol of gang membership. Zero-tolerance policies punish all offenses severely, no matter how minor. School systems began adopting the tough codes after Congress passed the 1994 Gun-Free Schools Act, which required one-year expulsions for any child bringing a firearm or bomb to school. But zero-tolerance rules in many states also cover fighting, drug or alcohol use and gang activity, as well as relatively minor offenses like possessing over-the-counter medications, disrespect of authority, sexual harassment, threats and vandalism.
More than 90 percent of U.S. public schools had zero-tolerance policies for firearms or other weapons in 1997, and more than 85 percent had the policies for drugs and alcohol. In some jurisdictions, carrying cough drops, wearing black lipstick or dying your hair blue are expellable offenses. Even writing a paper about murder or suicide can land a student in trouble.” (187) In addition, every time a teacher has to stop class to send a student to the office it becomes disruptive to other students’ learning. If Susie Q. is sitting next to Jonny P. and he begins to poke at her with his pencil, zero-tolerance governs that he be sent to the principal for punishment. That means pulling him in front of the class while all the other students watch, writing a hall pass, and sending him off to wait until the principal has time for him. If his teacher had it her way, she would have quietly tapped on her 2nd grader’s shoulder and asked him to move desks. Jonny P. doesn’t miss an exorbitant amount of class and the rest of the class wasn’t led off into a day dream, allowing them to continue their studies. If teachers are trusted to instruct students, and be the “parent” for eight hours a day, five days a week, how could they possibly not be trusted to make the appropriate judgment calls in these matters? Furthermore, there is a disturbing amount of racial discrimination being reported, as a result of zero-tolerance policies. In 2002 a study showed that “blacks tend to get in trouble for less-serious reasons than whites. Whites for smoking, leaving without permission, vandalism and using obscene language, while blacks for disrespect, excessive noise, threats and loitering.” (Billitteri 153) If a child grows up worrying about the color of their skin, how can they possible focus on their school work? It lends a hand to bullying, just instead of other students, now it is by the administrators.
Proponents of the zero-tolerance policies will argue that it is indeed effective at driving crime rates down and should remain in place. Billitteri references one study, Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2007, to show just that. This particular study states that thirty-four homicides were reported amongst students in 1992-1993. That number dropped considerably to the Columbine shooting in 1999, where thirteen were killed. (148) However, listing the ups and downs on the study graph, it also shows that weapons, drugs, stealing, and violence continue to offer obstacles in schools. With outrageous claims of accepting breath mints requiring drug awareness, it is clear that zero-tolerance policies have some reforming to do. It does aid in the fight against student crimes, but lacks in the fairness department. If children are raised in such erroneous ways, how can the world expect them to have a bright future? Each case should not be judged by the color of one’s skin, but individually, regarding the facts at hand. Well intended or not, zero-tolerance policies have some changing to do.
(2001, 10). Zero Tolerance: Doubtful Indeed. StudyMode.com. Retrieved 10, 2001, from http://www.studymode.com/essays/Zero-Tolerance-Doubtful-Indeed-33848.html Koch, Kathy. “Zero Tolerance for School Violence: Is Mandatory Punishment in Schools Unfair?” CQ Researcher Online 10.9 10 Mar. 2000. 185-208. CQ Press. Web. 4 Nov 2011. Billitteri, Thomas. “Discipline in Schools: Are Zero-Tolerance Policies Fair?” CQ Researcher Online 18.7 15 Feb. 2008. 148-168. CQ Press. Web. 4 Nov 2011. Rachel, et al., “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2007,” National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, and Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, December 2007, Web. 4 Nov. 2011.
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