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July 24, 2014, 4:40 am

The problem with zero tolerance policies

Zero tolerance policies are coming under renewed scrutiny after parents say school officials have suspended or threatened to suspend students in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Massachusetts over minor infractions involving pretend weapons, reports the Associated Press.

“Small children have been getting into deep trouble at school lately, and their parents say it’s because educators are hypersensitive in the wake of the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school in December,” AP reports.

According to AP here are some of the potential threats to school safety which has caused children to be suspended from school:

“Waiting in line for the for bus, a Pennsylvania kindergartner tells her pals she’s going to shoot them with a Hello Kitty toy that make soap bubbles. In Maryland, two 6-year-old boys pretend their fingers are guns during a playground game of cops and robbers. In Massachusetts, a 5-year-old boy attending an after-school program makes a gun out of Legos and points it at other students while “simulating the sound of gunfire.”

It not known the extent to which the Newton, Conn., shooting might influence educator is unclear. But parents contend administrators are projecting adult fears onto children who know little about the massacre, and pose no threat to anyone.

Created as a way to improve school security and discipline, zero tolerance policies can lead to overreaction by educators and provide them with little leeway to respond to problems in a more fair, just and sensible manner.

A study by the Children’s Defense Fund found that black children in Mississippi public schools are more than twice as likely to be disciplined or punished as white students.

Zero tolerance policies sometimes create what the Children Defense Fund calls the Cradle to Prison Pipeline.

Marian Wright Edelman, founder and director of the Children’s Defense Fund, says zero tolerance policies are forcing student out of school, leaving them uneducated and unable to find jobs.

“It is becoming the new American apartheid. It is resegregating. It is going to undermine the last 50 years of civil rights progress if we don’t look at it, see it, and break it up.” Edelman said.

Zero tolerance policies are not a new problem. In many cases these policies do not work because they discount professional judgment and do little to improve safety or discipline.

We must have increased evaluation and in some cases elimination of these polices are necessary.