Zero-tolerance policies: Illogical

Thisanjali Gangoda

The education system in America is taking a turn for the worse in the handling of student insubordination and discipline. By enacting zero-tolerance policies in school districts all across the United States, hundreds of students have been expelled, arrested and taken to court for offenses as mild as bringing a fork to school.

Designed to combat issues of disobedience and rule breaking, zero-tolerance policies often have severe punishments that are unfair and inappropriate in address to the offense. The idea is that in order to maintain control, there are no exceptions to the rules under any circumstance.

Last month, 12-year-old Alexa Gonzalez of Queens, N.Y., was escorted out of her Spanish class in handcuffs for doodling on her desk with an erasable marker. On the desk she wrote, “I love my friends Abby and Faith.”

In March, a kindergartner was suspended for making a finger gun, another kindergartner was handcuffed and taken to a psychiatric ward for being “rowdy” in class in New York, and last October, 6-year-old Zachary Christie was suspended from school for having a camping utensil with him at school in Newark, Del.

Why is it that school districts are being so inane in their discipline policies that they are willing to handcuff 12-year-olds and suspend kindergartners? What is the harm in letting children learn from their mistakes in a productive and appropriate manner?

Zero-tolerance policies in the United States are getting stricter and more outrageous in the handling of drug and violence problems in schools, as well as simpler matters of recess scuffles and quarrels. There is no concrete evidence that by taking such staunch actions against students it will deter further offense that could be made by other students who break the rules consciously or by accident.

There is a mindset in many cultures that by severely enacting a policy that is inflexible in its dealing with the situations at hand, people will do their best to follow accordingly. If people are aware of the serious consequences to their actions, then they will modify their behavior to avoid breaking the rules.

But isn’t it part of human nature to misunderstand, make mistakes and at times be insubordinate to the law? Whether it is zero-tolerance policies or the death penalty, blanket legal mechanisms we allow our judicial systems to use aren’t conducive to fostering a peaceful, understanding environment. Instead, it promotes fearful living and distrust of others, keeping people on pins and needles about what authoritative figures could do to them next.

The way to combat such unnecessary, volatile legal action is by making it apparent to the media and by fighting the policies in court. Many of the children who were suspended and expelled from school because of zero-tolerance policies have taken their cases to court on the grounds that the punishments interfered with their constitutional right to education. Several school districts that have punished students under zero-tolerance policies denied sending tutors to their homes to help them catch up with missed homework.

If the purpose of zero-tolerance policies is to keep students safe and focused on school, it really isn’t effective if everyone is expelled or suspended for minor infractions. School authorities should handle issues of disobedience and violence with more effective counseling programs and peer mediation. Those involved in incidents would then have the opportunity to express their feelings and work toward resolutions to fit their specific situations.

It isn’t a difficult concept to grasp. Even a 5-year-old could see the logic in creating a supportive network of authoritative figures to trust and believe in.

Thisanjali Gangoda is a senior political science major and

columnist for the Daily Kent Stater.

Contact her at [email protected].