Is a Zero-Tolerance Policy Really a Zero-Intelligence one?

It was a shock when my spouse and I walked into what was supposed to be our first grader’s winter conference only to be handed the pocket utility tool that my son was caught with at lunch time.  The lunch yard duty found our son, alone under the playground slide, picking up tan bark with the utility’s pliers.  He’s lucky that the yard duty thinks he’s an awesome kid.  The yard duty had a brief talk with him before handing it over to his teacher who also had a talk with him before handing it over to us where the real disciplining began.

After giving our son the look of the momma-dragon, I immediately said a huge “Thank You” to his teachers for deciding to handle the matter themselves instead of turning it over to the principal.  With today’s zero-tolerance policies, our first grader could have been suspended or even expelled for his age-appropriate but still serious lapse in judgment.  Before you think we are overreacting, in 2009 a six-year old Cub Scout in Delaware was suspended for 45 days for the same thing.

In recent news, zero-tolerance policies have been attacked as inflexible, harsh and lacking in common sense. Criticism has increased as zero-tolerance policies have become standard operating procedure in the nation’s public schools.  Supporters have credited zero-tolerance policies with helping make students feel safer in school, but such policies also have come under fire for their all-or-nothing approach. Even those who support such policies say the get-tough effort often fails to differentiate between good kids who make the typical mistakes of adolescence and the unruly delinquents who can bring learning to a standstill.

With no evidence that zero-tolerance policies make schools safer, what exactly to these policies enforce? 

The enforcement of a policy that punishes any infraction of a rule – regardless of accidental mistakes, ignorance, or extenuating circumstances – seems more like a zero-intelligence policy.  I’m all for keeping our children safe, but I have to wonder if we’ve taken this too far.  Are good kids getting caught in the cross-fire of zero-tolerance?

I am so grateful that my son’s yard duty and teacher used common sense when they dealt with my child.  He’s a good kid who made a bad choice.  An innocent choice – one where he didn’t really understand why bringing the utility tool would lead to big consequences.  I’m just glad that those consequences are ones at home and not ones that will affect his education.

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  1. March 12, 2011
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