EDU 6989: Concerns with Zero Tolerance Policies

H – Honor student diversity, development and their right to learn.

H5 – Honor student potential for roles in the greater society. Teacher candidates prepare students to be responsible citizens for an environmentally sustainable, globally interconnected, and diverse society.

When evaluating our role as public servants, it seems obvious that teachers should seek effective ways to educate children about the importance of making positive decisions and exhibiting positive behaviors within the school and within our greater society. Zero tolerance policies were initially implemented in public schools in the 1980’s in order to promote the safety and security of students and school staff. When evaluating evidence from a variety of sources, it appears conclusive that data is showing these policies to be less effective then initially planned. Moreover, zero tolerance policies promote the expulsion of students for behaviors that might not deserve such high consequences. There is an inherent concern to protect students and staff from situations involving weapons, drugs, and violent behaviors but beyond these issues, other disciplinary measures may more effectively serve troubled students and the greater school community. Evans (2008) states that zero tolerance philosophy “…may encourage the use of [these] procedures as a first line of treatment, before other alternatives have been tried” (p. 153). Prevention of many disciplinary problems may be better resolved through other measures. It is not suggested that all responsibility for these troubled children falls on the educator but it is suggested that suspension and expulsion not be used as a first consequence.

Furthermore, these policies are known to target ethnic and racial minorities as well as students in impoverished circumstances (Evans, 2008; Rice, 2009; Verdugo, 2002). Figures 1-3 are sample excerpts from three separate texts highlighting examples of these concerns. These sources as well as others convey that these policies aren’t necessarily sending a warning message to potential troublemakers that poor behaviors will not be tolerated; instead they are conveying to all students that the school is an unwelcoming and disciplinary place. Evans (2008) states that “regardless of their own background, most high school students appear to share the perception that school discipline, especially school suspension, unfairly targets poor students and students of color” (p. 150). Regardless of the evidence that supports this notion, this should not be a message that educators hope to convey to students.

Figure 1. Evans, D. (2008). Taking sides: Clashing views in teaching and educational practice (3rd ed.). Boston: McGraw Hill Higher Education (p. 151).

Figure 1. Evans, D. (2008). Taking sides: Clashing views in teaching and educational practice (3rd ed.). Boston: McGraw Hill Higher Education (p. 151).

Figure 2. Rice, S. (2009). Education for toleration in an era of zero tolerance school policies: A Deweyan analysis. Educational Studies, 45: 556-571. doi: 10.1080/00131940903338308 (p. 557).

Figure 2. Rice, S. (2009). Education for toleration in an era of zero tolerance school policies: A Deweyan analysis. Educational Studies, 45: 556-571. doi: 10.1080/00131940903338308 (p. 557).

Figure 3. Verdugo, R. R. (November, 2002). Race-ethnicity, social class, and zero-tolerance policies: The cultural and structural wars. Education and Urban Society, 35-1: 50-75. doi: 10.1177/001312402237214 (p. 50).

Figure 3. Verdugo, R. R. (November, 2002). Race-ethnicity, social class, and zero-tolerance policies: The cultural and structural wars. Education and Urban Society, 35-1: 50-75. doi: 10.1177/001312402237214 (p. 50).

This evidence has me very uneasy and even more aware of my own biases. Having worked and lived in many diverse environments, I understand how simple it is for individuals to stereotype others and the repercussions that are consequential of those actions. All educators should eliminate racial bias from disciplinary decisions and be aware of their own biases based on their personal experiences. In addition, no two students are the same and care should be taken to ensure that behavior problems are reviewed on an individual basis. In other words, one student’s behavior may be similar to a previous case but one should not automatically assume that two individuals should be disciplined in the same way; after all they are two very different people.

It is essential that disciplinary measures be chosen in a manner that promotes the success of the student in the greater society. While some students may exhibit behavior that is dangerous to themselves or others, educators should review these situations in a case-by-case scenario. I agree with Evans (2008), that there are circumstances where some students must be removed from the school in order to facilitate the safety and security of others. I also agree that nobody has the right to take away from the education of others, that everyone is entitled to a public education. Therefore, as a future teacher, rather than use zero tolerance procedures as an easy way to enforce classroom policies, I’d prefer to use this as a last resort. As an elementary educator, I also believe that it is my responsibility to find ways to provide students with the foundational skills to prevent behavioral problems later in their education. I will evaluate students that may exhibit significant behavioral problems; it is essential that early intervention be used if at all possible. I am also aware that I am only one person and I certainly cannot fix every child. There may be situations where the child is the one taking away from other students’ right to an education. Therefore, as part of an early intervention, I will need to seek out available resources to help this child, even if this means removal from the general education classroom to a contained classroom setting.

Reference:

Evans, D. (2008). Taking sides: Clashing views in teaching and educational practice (3rd ed.). Boston: McGraw Hill Higher Education.

Rice, S. (2009). Education for toleration in an era of zero tolerance school policies: A Deweyan analysis. Educational Studies, 45: 556-571. doi: 10.1080/00131940903338308

Verdugo, R. R. (November, 2002). Race-ethnicity, social class, and zero-tolerance policies: The cultural and structural wars. Education and Urban Society, 35-1: 50-75. doi: 10.1177/001312402237214

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