[Podcast] In 2013, A 7-year-old Maryland kid chewed his breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun at school and wound up with two days suspension. The pastry in question was not named, but it’s gotta be a Pop-Tart, right? This dubious outcome, and others like it, are often the result of what is known as Zero-tolerance school safety policy.
DIRECT LINK to MP3 of this Episode: https://tinyurl.com/SDP110-AUDIO
WHAT ARE ZERO TOLERANCE POLICIES?
Zero-tolerance policies were written into school handbooks in the 1990s, created originally to be a deterrent for bringing weapons into schools. Many students under strict zero-tolerance policies are punished without a second thought. School administrators are not afforded discretion to use professional judgment to match a consequence to a violation of the code of student conduct. This type of disciplinary procedure has been proven in research to have an overall negative effect on students, and a disproportionately negative effect on minorities.
ABOUT RESEARCHER ANN MARIE COTMAN
Ann Marie Cotman is a doctoral student researching school policing at Texas State University. An educator since 1995 and a mother since 1998, Ann Marie fully respects and underscores that schools’ first and most important obligation is to creating and maintaining a safe learning environment. As a researcher she is determined to make sure that safety driven policies truly support the safety of ALL students and are not unexamined practices that instead produce poor and inequitable outcomes. When not reading, writing, and researching, Ann Marie loves to play analog games with her three children and create art. She also gets to know the coolest kids in Austin Texas through her summer camp program and private tutoring!
FOUR WAYS ZERO-TOLERANCE DISCIPLINE POLICIES UNDERMINE SCHOOL SAFETY
(1) prioritizes compliance over self-management/critical thinking; (2) undermines students’ development of and confidence in their own decision making; (3) hides race (and gender, and other) inequities under the fig leaf of equal treatment; (4) discourages and interrupts the relationship building that is critical to creating a culture in which all community members want to come forward with concerns.
ZERO-TOLERANCE PRETENDS TO REMOVE SUBJECTIVE DECISION MAKING THIS A PROBLEM FOR TWO REASONS
(1) Why would we want to remove the human element from addressing discipline problems? (2) We know both in design and application that it does NOT create an objective decision process.
BETTER OPTIONS. Ann shifts the discussion to looking at the safety priorities of the school. Is it worth the time and investment to maintain polarizing Zero-tolerance policies at the detriment of cultivating relationships with students and families? And, for policies to be effective across the hundreds of thousands of school buildings in America, they need to be melded to each school setting. That involves affording the principal discretion to interpret and apply policies to best fit the setting. It’s not capitulating – it’s sensemaking. Ann also shared an example of a school that invited four students to serve on its safety committee and simple, potent positive changes that resulted from a group of educators and students working to solve the problem of chronic vaping by youth.
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