Sunday, April 20, 2014
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EDIT: Zero-tolerance means zero productivity

People send their children to schools to learn, not to be subject to rough societal punishments. When a person trusts a school with the well being of his or her child, it is understood that educators and administrators in middle and high schools will act in the best interest of the student. Zero-tolerance policies are counterintuitive to the development of a functioning member of society, and they should be eradicated before more young people are prematurely introduced to the incarceration system.

Any zero-tolerance policy against non-violent crime breeds criminals. When a student is in possession of an illegal substance or spray paints a wall on a campus, administrators should take the responsibility to discipline. Guidance counselors and school security should be held more accountable for discovering and assessing a child’s actions and administering constructive discipline rather than punishing the student to the fullest extent.

Disruptive students should not be contained to jail cells, juvenile detention or simple detention in a cafeteria. If a social problem warrants possible incarceration, parents and school officials should be more than capable of avoiding such harsh consequences. How is society going to advance if young people are left to fend for their rights in a courtroom?

Expulsions and suspensions delegate the responsibility of disciplining a student to the parents, which is fine in most cases. But if a parent is incompetent or unable to address unruly social issues — as is often the case when students have certain social problems — then the student is left to his or her own devices to continue the bad behavior.

The achievement gap exists partially because the students who interrupt and unsettle well-mannered students are not told to get better, but are simply told they are inadequate and need to improve. How can students get better in school if their actions are not reprimanded productively?

Currently, more than 70,000 people under the age of 18 years old are in juvenile detention, according to the Sentencing Project, an organization geared toward fighting to lower the sheer number of young people behind bars. Schools think they can effectively educate willing, behaved students if the ne’er-do-wells are removed from classrooms, but removing these more difficult students damages their futures.

Schools should not allow non-violent offenses to dictate their pupils’ futures. Minor mistakes should not put students out of schools and on the streets. These policies perpetuate the notion that high schools are only for privileged students with clean records. The streets do not breed doctors and more educators, but often more criminals. The opportunity to earn a high school diploma is so vitally important, and it should not be yanked from a student’s grasp if he or she carries half a gram of marijuana or smokes cigarettes on the premises.

Zero-tolerance policies are beneficial if a student walks into a classroom holding a weapon or harms anyone on campus — having potential to harm others in the school or lacking the emotional stability to participate in socialization should be removed before damage is done to themselves or their peers. Even if a student is in possession of a firearm, administrators have the power to prevent future behavior that can harm others and the well being of the school without solely removing the student from the school permanently.

What these policies do is give administrators the opportunity to completely separate a problem from school without attacking it head-on. What better way to squelch a disruption than forbidding it from returning to the classroom? There is no need for a review of the situation, there is no incentive to try to understand the origins behind the action, and there is no benefit for the student. Zero-tolerance policies address the instances and symptoms of damaged and struggling students, but they do little to address the cause and to help young people grow into the functioning adults they need to be.

Schools should be allocating resources to deal with correcting socially unaccepted behavior instead of fueling more disdain for society with the involvement of law enforcement and potentially jailtime. People should have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes instead of wholeheartedly regretting their actions. Schools should have the power to enact harsher punishments if necessary, but calling the police should certainly never be Plan A.

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