On April 20, 1999, in the small town of Littleton, Colorado, two high-school students named Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris committed one of the most gruesome and heinous school shootings to date. They carried out a meticulously planned assault on Columbine High School during the middle of the school day. The boys’ original plan was to kill hundreds of their peers. Armed with guns, knives, and a multitude of bombs, the two boys walked the hallways and killed.
At the end of the shooting spree twelve students, and one teacher were declared dead and the two shooters were found having committed suicide; 21 more students were injured during the boys’ rampage. This became known as the “Columbine Massacre” and began a new age of school discipline. The new school policies have come to be known as “Zero Tolerance Policies”. The zero tolerance policy was a new policy implemented by a large majority of schools following the massacre. These policies established a harsh and un-forgiving system of punishment for students who broke school rules and those students who were perceived as a threat or as dangerous.
In theory, these policies were fool proof and the only way to make schools safer. However, the whiplash of the implementation of these policies is now becoming evident. Suspension rates have sky rocketed, as have the number of expulsions nationwide. America’s quality and safety of education is deteriorating. A quote-un-quote environment of fairness and safety has all but disappeared due to the severity and un-fairness of these policies. It is evident that these policies are not fool proof and do not keep everyone safe. (#6)
The abuses and flaws of Zero Tolerance Policies are evident in the news. Here are but a few examples of the abuse of Zero Tolerance Policies: A Valedictorian was suspended, because she accidently left a kitchen knife on her car seat after it fell out of a packing box while moving. She, in turn, missed her graduation. Three students were suspended for sharing Certs mints, other students from the same school have been suspended for sharing Aspirin and cough drops. One student was expelled for preventing a classmate from committing suicide by hiding their knife and then informing a teacher.
Another student was suspended for sharing her inhaler with a fellow student who was having an asthma attack. A student was expelled because her mother packed a butter knife in her lunch. She was 10. Another elementary student was suspended for coming to a school Halloween party in a firefighter’s costume which included a plastic ax. A student was suspended and threatened with expulsion for bringing nail clippers to school. And finally, a boy in high school was suspended for answering a phone call from his mother at lunch.
She was currently stationed in Iraq and it was the week of Mothers Day. (#4) (NY Times) Those were just a few of the numerous cases in which the Zero Tolerance Policy has been abused. So, are policies, such as, zero tolerance policies the only way to assure the safety of children all over America? (#2) Yes. “Studies by law enforcement agencies (including the FBI and Secret Service), think thank reports, safety summits, government decrees, and a minor industry that has developed around school safety, have yet to find [another way] to ensure students safety. Ferrandino)”
However the real question is: Should zero tolerance policies be reformed in order to assure the physical safety of students and make it safer for students to learn? Absolutely. I believe that if we are suspending kindergarteners for playing with Lego’s that have toy guns, which are no bigger than two-inches, there is obviously a problem with the policies schools are enforcing. I believe that zero tolerance policies are too severe and endanger the quality of education in American schools. They do keep children physically safe, but they make it inherently unsafe for students to learn.
Doctor Jenna Saul told NPR radio: “When it comes to zero tolerance, I think those sorts of policies are wrong on many levels. ” Saul then suggests why the policies are wrong and what needs to be modified if schools are to truly be “safe” for students: “First, I think if we, as adults, are supposed to be providing- modeling for our children, then one of the things we should be modeling is critical thinking, taking all the information in that we’re given, and making good judgments and good decisions based on the information that we have. “
Saul is saying he does not believe in equal punishment for every offense against school rules. This is what makes zero tolerance policies so inherently unfair. (#7 and #3) One of the main arguments in support of keeping zero tolerance policies the way they were designed is that no other way has been found to keep children as physically safe as absolute zero tolerance policies. I do, admittedly, agree with this concern. In a physical sense, zero tolerance policies are the best thing for schools and need not be modified. (#1) However, that is on a purely physical safety level.
While these policies do keep children physically safe they have transformed schools into places where children are afraid to express themselves and are not able to learn properly. (#5) “The answer to school violence is not to transform schools into totalitarian police states and lock up every naughty child,” wrote Trent England, a legal policy analyst, and Steve Muscatello, a researcher, at the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies. This quote leads me into my next point in refutation the “safety” argument.
Due to the “assurance of students’ physical” safety under zero tolerance policies, expulsion rates have skyrocketed. A report, published by the U. S Department of Education in 2008, reported that: “Forty-eight percent of public schools reported taking at least one serious disciplinary action against a student —including suspensions lasting 5 days or more, removals with no services (i. e. , expulsions), and transfers to specialized schools—for specific offenses during the 2005–06 school year (Indicator 19).
Of those serious disciplinary actions, 74 percent were suspensions for 5 days or more, 5 percent were expulsions, and 20 percent were transfers to specialized schools. ” That suspension rate has now gone to 82 percent and the expulsion rate to 15 percent. Our young people must be assured that the schools they walk into are providing the best level of safety that is humanly possible. If students fear they may be subject to physical attacks, put in substandard buildings incapable of withstanding Mother Nature’s hazards or forced to deal with a staff that cannot cope with daily threats to students’ safety, then self-actualization — i. . learning — will never occur. (Armistead) Another argument in support of zero tolerance policies are that they provide fairness to all students.
No one is treated more special than another. No matter their offense. This is inherently unfair. Even courts of law to not abide by the “one size fits all” rule of punishment. Dr Saul says: ” What was originally intended as a plicy to improve safety in school by ensuring that all children.. follow the rules is being used now as a n excuse to treat all children the same when they are in need or corrective measures.
Schools should have zero tolerance for the idea of doing anything that treats all studnets the same. One Size does not and cannot fit all. Zero tolerance policies are good for schools. They do provide phsyical safety however they are not fair and do not provide fairness to all students. I support the idea of keeping studnets safe but I do not support the idea of harming learning enviroments or the fairness of students. That is why I believe zero tolerance policies should be modified to fit eevery offense in an approriate manner.