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Zero Tolerance Policies

May 17, 2012

So often today we hear about the need for “Zero Tolerance Policies” and, at times, it does seem to be a reasonable solution but often it is really a “knee-jerk” reaction to some event that causes us (as a society) to demand that something be done to prevent future events.  Do these “Zero Tolerance Policies” really stop those future events?  Perhaps they do lessen the frequency of the events occurring but I would suggest that no, they don’t stop them but they are contributing to the death of common sense and reasonable discipline.

Why do I say that?  Well let’s examine some examples where “Zero Tolerance” has failed miserably and caused otherwise thinking adults to treat otherwise typical children as outright criminals with malicious mischief  in mind.

  • Have you heard of the Cub Scout that brought his pocket knife to school?
  • Or the Lacrosse players that were suspended?
  • Or how about the boy with the toy solider on his hat?

These are but three stories that show how having a “Zero Tolerance Policy” fails both our schools and our children.  Not one of these students had a “weapon” (and I put that in quotes because toy soldiers are definitely not weapons even if they happen to hold weapons and don’t we expect soldiers to carry weapons?) with intent to harm themselves or another individual.  Weren’t the “Zero Tolerance Policies” actually started to stop students from harming themselves and/or others?  Weren’t they initially started because we were all in shock that two boys from Colorado carried semi-automatic and automatic weapons into their school and shot fellow students and teachers?

How many of us grew up with classmates who had hunting rifles in their truck sitting in the school parking lot so that as soon as school let out they could go hunting during hunting season?  How many of our classmates growing up had pocket knives on them during school?  How many remember their grandfather or even their father carrying a pocket knife?  How many boys looked forward to the day their parents decided they were old enough and mature enough for a pocket knife of their own?  Because of today’s “Zero Tolerance Policies” how many of our own sons or husbands no longer have access (in their pocket) to a pocket knife?

Our country’s insistence of “Zero Tolerance Policies” hasn’t, in my opinion, made us any safer, but it sure has limited our freedoms.  How many of us feel like we are being assumed guilty until we prove ourselves innocent when attempting to travel by public transportation or even get a driver’s license renewed these days?

“Zero Tolerance” sounds like a reasonable solution until you find yourself on the wrong end of that policy.  The child that bullies does need to be dealt with but a “Zero Tolerance” policy doesn’t allow the adults involved (who know the child best) to make a reasonable decision on how to handle the issue.  I’ve heard of so many special needs children who get caught up in the “zero tolerance policy” when the truth of the matter is the typical child set the special needs child up to fall into violating the “zero tolerance policy.”  Now, some will say oh, it doesn’t effect that child, but it does unless their IEP is specifically written to show that the child’s disability might manifest in such a way to violate the policy.  How many parents or staff that write up IEP’s review every school’s policy to determine if the child’s disability might manifest in a way to violate said policy?  A child that has a disability might blurt out “I’m going to kill you!” (and truthfully, how many of us have said that in anger and never really meant it?) after being teased or bothered by the typical child (or even another child with a disability)?  Is it the socially acceptable way to respond?  Of course not, but you can bet your bottom dollar that the typical child won’t admit to egging on the child with a disability.  Now, with “zero tolerance” in place the special needs child is suspended or expelled.  The parents are left in the dark because they will be told “nothing happened to set him/her off.”  The staff, if they know this is highly unusual for the child will be frustrated because they will know that something must have set the child off but they are unable to keep the child in school or get to the bottom of the issue.

I say instead of “Zero Tolerance” we put common sense back into our schools and society and allow people in charge to review matters before making blanket one size fits all discipline decisions.  Let’s realize that one size doesn’t fit all and one consequence may be right for one child but totally wrong for another.  Let the school systems and the parents discipline, remove the judicial system from the equation especially when it comes to typical childhood antics.  Let the punishment fit the crime once more.

In follow up to the three stories I posted, the little boy that made the hat with the toy soldiers he received a medal.  (Here’s another article from the Army Times.)  The cub scout got a reprieve.  The lacrosse players won their appeal of their suspension.  So in conclusion there are still some adults out there that have some common sense.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 17, 2012 11:07 pm

    Very well said. 🙂

    • May 18, 2012 12:48 am

      Thanks! I ended up writing it after reading a friend post that a local school system needed to adopt a Zero Tolerance Policy on Bullying. To me, those policies are causing more problems than they are solving.

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