The "zero tolerance" policy in US schools is an unacceptable force in schools today.
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The intent of the policy is obviously good. Ridding schools of negativity in order to promote a safe environment of learning is always a positive goal; however, the enforcement of this policy has been its downfall. As is often the case, policy enforced without common sense commonly results in unfair treatment.
One example of this unfair treatment is the story of Lisa Smith from Dallas, Texas, as reported by USA Today. Lisa, a high caliber leader amongst her eighth grade peers, a student who had never been punished in the academic setting, found herself faced with five months of military-style boot camp for bringing a 20 ounce bottle of 7-Up mixed with a small amount of alcohol.
In Newark, Delaware, a six year-old boy found himself overjoyed after recently joining his local Cub Scout group. This joy was combated with a sentence of suspension and 45 days in reform school after the boy brought his camping utensil to school, which included a spoon, fork, and knife. The six year-old, who "wears a suit and tie some days to school by his own choice because he takes school so seriously," did not understand the ruling, stating, "It just seems unfair" (The New York Times, 12 Oct. 2009, A1).
These are just two examples of the zero tolerance policy being used without any form of leniency or discretion. Though the policy is an ideal, its careless application discredits its positive effects. Without a tailored fit for each student, the policy causes more trouble than it helps. This ineffective use of the policy shows that the zero tolerance policy is an unacceptable force in US schools today.
The phrase "zero-tolerance" is exactly what this program is all about. It does not matter how good of a student a child is or if they are active participants and good citizens. With zero-tolerance, each child is treated the same for breaking a rule while in school. Some people believe that the punishments that the zero-tolerance policy offers are much too severe for some of the things that are happening in school and as the New York Times article provided by my opponent says, some of these are just "minor" and "spats." The zero-tolerance policy shows children than getting into fistfights, having something illegal such as drugs or alcohol, or attempting to hurt others is NOT acceptable. While many people brush it off as "kids being kids," zero-tolerance treats these perpetrators like adults in hopes of ridding them of the behavior as soon as possible.
It is also important to remember that in the example of Lisa Smith from Dallas, Texas, this girl did not just break a rule within the school system. Of course, bringing alcohol to school is against the rules but this is also a case of underage possession of alcohol. Her situation cannot simply be viewed as a school issue since it also breaks laws outside of the school, which is probably why her punishment was so extreme.
In a society where violence is so prevalent, I believe that despite its flaws, the zero-tolerance policy is more beneficial than it is negative. In fact, the American Bar Association Journal reported that since 1990, crime of all types in public schools is down by as much as thirty percent. It is very likely that the zero-tolerance policy has something to do with that decrease.
Though there has been a reported decrease in crime within schools since 1990, the Consortium to Prevent School Violence noted that "the American Psychological Association (2006) reported finding no evidence that zero tolerance reduced school violence or improved student behavior." Rather, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that "schools with no crime reported were less likely to have a zero tolerance policy for violence than schools that had reported one or more serious crimes." This means that a school with the zero tolerance policy is statistically more likely to report one or more serious crimes than a school without the policy.
Additionally, the Principals' Partnership declared, "policies must specify consequences;
allow flexibility; consider alternatives to expulsion; clearly define weapons, drugs, and inappropriate acts;
involve the collaboration of all stakeholders; build on lessons from early programs; integrate health education
programs; tailor policies to local needs; and implement regular program reviews." The lack of clarity and leniency built into most zero tolerance policies is highlights their ineffectiveness.
Upon going back to the articles provided and rereading them, I cannot help but feel as though the presentation of the statistic about schools with no crime versus schools with crime is a little misleading. The quote provided basically is saying that schools who have more reports of crime are more likely to have a zero-tolerance policy than a school that does not have issues with crime whatsoever. When you look at this logically, it only makes sense that this would be true. The statistic is not saying that schools have more reported crime BECAUSE of it's zero-tolerance policy, it is simply stating the obvious in saying that a school with crime is more likely to have such a policy than a school without crime. It seems simple when you look at it that way, because why would a school with no crime need to crack down on it?
Another issue with the evidence provided is that the Consortium to Prevent School Violence article that provides the statistic saying that there is no evidence that zero tolerance reduced violence also states that there have been very few direct studies identifying the results of zero-tolerance policies. It just seems that for the evidence to be reliable, there should be a wider variety and more factual proof of the effectiveness of zero-tolerance policies.
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