Your phone rings while you are at work and you see that it is your child’s school. You answer the phone and the school’s principal tells you that your child has been suspended for one month for bringing a plastic knife in his/her lunch box. You are scheduled for hearings that have no meaning because the decision is irreversible. These are some of the effects of a zero-tolerance policy. Zero tolerance policies should be eliminated because they disproportionately affect African-American and urban youth, continue to feed the cradle to prison pipeline, create a prison culture in urban communities, and provide a devastating long-term outcome for youth.
In attempts to prevent violence in schools across the nation, districts have put into place a policy that has caused turmoil and blurred the lines in the meaning of discipline. After the mass shooting at Columbine, many districts cracked down on anything that resembled violence to a point that a student can be suspended for wearing rosary beads to school because they can be interpreted as a sign of gang involvement. This inflexible policy is treating children as suspects and criminals for rather trivial actions. It is to a point where a simple reference to words like “shoot”, or “bomb” could have a child expelled and charged with conspiracy. The policy is blinding students to their rights and it is becoming a form of oppression by the government and the school institution.
Statistics are showing that school campuses are safer than most places were fifteen years ago. From 1993 to 2010, school violence has been on a decline but with the implementation of zero-tolerance, dropout rates and a surge of suspensions are on the rise. In the past couple of years, Massachusetts’ school districts have been abusing their power in suspensions with a reported 75,000 in school and out-of-school suspensions. The district is not required to report unassigned or minor offenses, which could raise that number well into the hundreds of thousands.
Studies are showing that 40% of students expelled from U.S schools each year are black. 70% of students involved in “in-school” arrests or referred to law enforcement are Black or Latino. 68% of all males in state or federal prison don’t have a high school diploma. All of these statistics illustrate the disproportionate effect on urban youth. Many professionals can argue that the problem starts in the home, but if the same environment is reflected in the school at the same rate or more, it does not make the situation go away. Since a child in grade school spends more time in a school environment a day, the problem lies where the school official’s fall short of treating the student with care.
As the student becomes disconnected with the school setting, they become easily angered or begin to act out, and in turn can result in a suspension or other disciplinary action without even having a one on one encounter with the student. Suspensions now are being used to cover a school from...