Zero Tolerance Policies Gone Wild!

A teenager in Montgomery County Tennessee has become the new poster-boy for a continuing news drama that should perhaps be called:  Zero Tolerance Policies Gone Wild!

Apparently, the aspiring college applicant and ROTC candidate did not know that the truck he drove to school one morning carried a tool commonly used by fishermen (i.e., a knife) - a tool that can be repurposed for use as a weapon.  The young man is being sent to the "alternative" high school program and is now facing criminal charges in Juvenile Court.

Meanwhile in Florida, legislation is advancing that would prevent school districts from punishing students for "brandishing a partially consumed pastry or other food item to simulate a firearm or weapon." It is called the Pop-Tart Bill.  After it passes, the law will probably need to be amended to include food items that can be used to simulate a weapon without first being partially consumed (Banana used as gun in holdup, then eaten).

When it becomes necessary for a legislature to carve out an exception for food items that might appear dangerous, it is clear that zero-tolerance policies are a failed social experiment.

The experts have weighed in on the question, and so has the Obama Administration.

The American Psychological Association (APA) issued a task force report on the topic in 2009.  My summary of the APA findings can be found here:  Zero Tolerance Policies: no substitute for good judgment

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) statement on these policies pre-dates the APA publication.  Zero Tolerance and Alternative Strategies: A Fact Sheet for Educators and Policymakers concludes: "zero tolerance policies are complex, costly and generally ineffective."

The National Education Association (NEA) published a brief on the topic in 2011.  Alternatives to Zero Tolerance Policies reviews the research and notes that "these policies actually may have an adverse effect on student academic and behavioral outcomes."

The Obama Administration has paid attention to the accumulated research, knowledge and experience with these policies.

Despite the fact that First Lady Michelle Obama has been reported to have a "zero tolerance for hecklers" policy (Parade Magazine),  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder have recommended a change of course.

Speaking together, Duncan and Holder unveiled "the first national guidelines on school discipline" (Washington Post),  emphasizing that under zero-tolerance, minority students have suffered, and disproportionately so.

The professionals and the President are in tune with the parents on this one.

* Paul Mattiuzzi interviewed about zero tolerance:  Voice of Russia radio

Copyright, Paul G. Mattiuzzi, Ph.D.