Students’ rights go wrong

Legal rulings have made it impossible to enforce school rules, argues sociologist Richard Arum in the Washington Post.

At a time when schools face increased challenges to socialize youth for productive roles in society, the courts have created a complex set of requirements, including increased reporting, that have made well-meaning teachers and administrators reluctant to respond to and control student violence and misbehavior in ways the public would support.

Inner-city kids suffer the most because they’re most likely to attend schools made unsafe by out-of-control students.

Arum is the author of Judging School Discipline: The Crisis of Moral Authority.

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  1. Richard Brandshaft says:

    I read Richard Arum’s piece. No where does he mention that the class of officials he wants to give more authority are the ones who don’t grasp the difference between asthma inhalers, Advil, cocaine, and heroin.

    Maybe the first step should be to get rid of the jerks running schools. But getting good people means spending actual money.

  2. Peter Zawilski says:

    Mr. Brandshaft’s comment is right on. Let’s get rid of “zero tolerance” and put some discretion in the hands of administrators and teachers.

    When authority looks stupid in relation to common sense, how can it expect to command respect of those is governs? Discipline is a must in school, only if it makes sense and the penalties imposed are reasonable in relation to the violation.

    When one hears stories of a student expelled for a year for carrying Advil, a legal substance, I believe even a minor can buy, it contradicts the reality of those committing high felonies (Enron, Worldcomm). The authorities are only capable of punishing the defenseless and less well-heeled members of society or denying them reasonable rights under the Constitution.

  3. Sorry Guys,

    When you put “discretion” into play, you put money into trial lawyers’ pockets…….

  4. Andy Freeman says:

    > When you put “discretion” into play, you put money into trial lawyers’ pockets….

    Only if there’s some “right” involved. If there wasn’t a “right” to attend the local school, folks couldn’t complain/sue when their little angels were excluded.

  5. Or maybe they should pass a law forbidding parents to sue for money, etc unless in extreme circumstances (rape, assault) and any issues would be automatically forwarded to an arbitration committee. Get the courts out of it. Get money out of it.

  6. Also, this reminds me about that teacher who tried to discipline her Muslim student and then the lawyers were called in and discrimination was alleged. Lordy. Just one example of the problem.

  7. > ‘When one hears stories of a student expelled for a year for carrying Advil’ …

    This is an exception … what is more disconcerting are the students who bully, hit or punch a teacher, ‘curse out’ a teacher (apparently a relativily minor and regular occurence these days), and are NOT expelled. It’s a ‘slap on the wrist’ then back to class. Now Johnny (or Johanna as is the case more and more) don’t do that again.

    Cooper …. be there, done that !!!

  8. Zero tolerance policies are a response to the types of lawsuits Arum identifies. If schools couldn’t be sued for making reasonable discretionary disciplinary decisions, they wouldn’t need to make zero tolerance rules that take common-sense discretion away from local school educators. Once the administrators aren’t applying a bright-line rule, they can be accused of violating students’ rights because of some alleged inconsistency. See my entry on the subject in

  9. Sharon Phillips says:

    Zero tolerance policies are implemented in a silly corrupt ways. They insure the most corrupt administrators are the only ones who are successful in opposing corruption in discipline. The primary use of the corrupt implementation of zero tolerance policies is to skew discipline numbers to justify funding expensive solutions to solve them.
    “The widespread adoption of “zero tolerance” policies in public schools has fueled a backlash of student lawsuits in recent years, Arum added. Administrators’ overreactions to such minor breaches as bringing aspirin to school can undermine the legitimacy of school regulations in the eyes of students, parents, and the general public.

    Although “zero tolerance” policies are supported by overwhelming majorities of parents and teachers—93% and 89%, respectively, according to the Public Agenda survey—Arum believes that these policies actually exacerbate the root problem, which is the lack of discretion granted to teachers and administrators. Teachers need more freedom to address disciplinary problems on a case-by-case basis without constant fear of being sued, he argued. ”