Sharing Article: Zero Tolerance Must End Now

[ Back ]

Posted by Deb on May 17, 2000 at 10:22:31 from

"Zero Tolerance" Must End Now

Five years ago, in response to a perceived rise in school crime, the
concept of "zero tolerance" was introduced in schools across the
country, and it gained popularity after the Jonesboro, Ark., and
Littleton, Colo., shootings. The principle is that schools don't wait for
Jonesboro and Littleton incidents to happen, but instead come down
hard on children who show the earliest signs of violent behavior.

A good idea in theory. A disaster in practice.

If two children are fighting, it doesn't matter which child was the
aggressor and which was defending himself: They're fighting, they're

That's not the way it works on the outside world: If somebody attacks
me, I'm legally entitled to defend myself, as long as the amount of force I
use isn't out of proportion to the threat to my person.

Not allowing children to carry weapons is sensible. Suspending a child
for carrying a miniature bat he received as part of a baseball game
promotion isn't.

Clamping down on children who make serious death threats is vital. But
since the purpose of "zero tolerance" is to relieve teachers and
administrators of the responsibility of making any judgments at all, the
system is entirely out of control. Outrages aren't anecdotal anymore:
They're epidemic.

In New Jersey alone over the past month and a half, four kindergartners
were suspended for playing cops-and-robbers, shooting one another
with their fingers... a nine-year-old was suspended (and forced to
undergo psychiatric counseling) for threatening to shoot a classmate --
with a rubber band... and a seven-year-old, playing with his friends,
joked "Prepare to die," and was only readmitted to school after a
psychologist determined that he was not a threat to others.

In each case, the principal and school administrators continue to defend
the suspensions.

"Zero tolerance" must end: Not be revised, not be toyed with, but taken
off the books:

It's clearly ineffective, since there have certainly been more school
shootings over the past five years than ever before.
It teaches children that Constitutional guarantees don't apply to
them, which goes against everything schools should be teaching
It tells children that schools consider them untrustworthy, violent
creatures, which is the sort of thing some children will take to
It takes decision-making responsibility away from teachers and
forces principals and administrators to defend ridiculous decisions,
eroding respect for the school system.
And most importantly, it punishes the innocent, which -- at the risk
of sounding like a politician with John Philip Sousa playing in the
background -- goes against the very principles our country was
founded on. Our system isn't perfect by any means, but we at
least try to protect the innocent from being punished, even at the
cost of letting the occasional criminal go free.

"Zero tolerance" isn't a joke anymore: It's the juvenile equivalent of racial
profiling, where a group of people is deprived of their rights, their lives
disrupted and perhaps ruined, based on an unfair perception of their
probable guilt.

Yes, I worry that harm will come to my children when they're at school
-- I'm a parent, that's my job -- but I know they're infinitely more likely
to find themselves suspended for making a comment that would seem
perfectly innocuous in our back yard.

I have to warn my children to watch what they say at school, since the
wrong innocent remark could get them into a world of trouble. This is

end of article, but more information & other articles available at the link:

Follow Ups: