Schools Should Eliminate The Use Of Zero Tolerance Policies

957 words - 4 pages

The public schools of the United States, despite their proud past, are currently experiencing many difficulties. They seem to be under constant scrutiny and pressure to produce higher academic achievement and at the same time are being criticized by large segments of society. It is no secret that the environment which students experience in the public schools has changed greatly over the past twenty to thirty years, but there are many possible reasons for this; most of these explanations do not place the blame squarely on the schools themselves. Public schools are responsible for one thing, however, and that is the manner in which they react to the changes that take place. Prompted by increased discipline problems within school halls, many districts have adopted zero-tolerance policies toward certain problems, including drugs and violence. When considering current events such as school shootings or evidence of increased drug use among teenagers, this stance may seem rational. However, because they often force schools to make unjust decisions and are at the same time ineffective in increasing school discipline, public schools should eliminate the use of policies of zero-tolerance.

By definition, zero-tolerance policies are restrictive programs in which a thing is not tolerated in any form or at any level. For example, zero-tolerance programs against violence in schools have been used to justify the suspension of students who, using their fingers as mock ray guns, shot at imaginary aliens on the playground at recess. It is the hope of administrators that disciplinary actions such as this will greatly deter students from bringing a real gun to school. Similar to this is the suspension of students whose lunches have been packed with Aspirin for a headache or with plastic knives for peeling an orange. In each case, the goal of utilizing a policy of zero-tolerance has been that a strong enough message will have been sent to students that a more serious defiance of the rule will be averted in the future. I believe this intention fails on two counts: it does not deter worse events from taking place and is actually a mockery of true justice.

First of all, the separate actions encompassed in zero-tolerance policies are often so different--both in intent and possible results--that they are only related in very superficial ways. A student who brings a plastic knife to school to peel an orange is not on the same level as one who brings a machete in his or her backpack; in the former, there is obviously no intent to harm another student, nor would it be possible with such an item. Yet, under a policy of zero-tolerance, the two infractions could be punished in much the same way. The punishment of the lesser offence will almost always be exaggerated, making the crime seem more severe than it actually is; this is, in fact, the thinking behind zero-tolerance policies. Actions like these hardly...

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