ACLU questions zero tolerance

Policies designed to keep guns out of schools are pushing Pennsylvania students out of school, charges Beyond Zero Tolerance, a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

Black, Latino and disabled students are the most likely to be suspended, according to the report.

The Gun-Free Schools Act of 1995 required states that receive federal funding to mandate expulsion of any students caught with a weapon on campus.

Districts expanded the definition of “weapons” beyond firearms and removed students from the classroom for more minor, discretionary offenses, such as school uniform violations and talking back to adults, the report said.

“I understand the mentality that you’ve got to get the bad kids out of school so the good kids can learn, but when you actually look at who’s doing what in schools, it really doesn’t break down that cleanly or that simply,” report author Harold Jordan told Education Week.

Pennsylvania schools averaged 10.1 suspensions for every 100 students during the 2011-2012 school year. That included 35.9 suspensions for every 100 black students, 17.5 suspensions for every 100 Latino students, and 4.7 suspensions for every 100 white students, according to the report.

Education Week looks at shifting discipline policies in a January 2013 report.

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  1. Ann in L.A. says:

    Interesting, since I’ve always assumed zero-tolerance was adopted in order to shield school administrations from claims of discrimination, by replacing thought and difficult decision making with a mindless policy, If you don’t have to think about which disciplinary action you need to take, because you adopted a one-size-fits-all policy, you should–in theory–eliminate the effects of biases.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    I suppose there is some kind of “zero-tolerance creep”; not speaking of adminisrators here.
    The first iteration of ZT might be reasonable. A real, live gun in school, no excuses. Problem might have been an old-time prin excusing an Eagle Scout who’s going bird-hunting after school and busting a no-count with a long history of violence outside the school. That’s discretion, common sense, and eventually going to be made illegal because there may end up being a disparity between various groups in the punishment.
    Okay. So maybe ZT comes down too hard on the Eagle Scout, but said scout ought to be smart enough to follow the rules.
    Problem with ZT is when it actually reflects reality. As in, we can’t give Arne-like breaks to members of Accredited Victim Groups, incuding some with overrepresentation as perps in various crimes. Unfortunately, we’re supposed to.

    • I think you’re working way too hard to come up with some – any – justification for zero tolerance policies. Ann in L.A. is closer to the truth although she’s over-constraining her explanation to the purpose of zero tolerance being a defense against charges of discrimination.

      Zero tolerance is a defense against adverse consequences from any exercise of professional discretion. It’s the policy from which there’s no appeal – you don’t *want* weapons in schools, do you? – while shielding the administrator from charges of over-zealous application – my hands are tied, it’s a zero tolerance policy.

      For the sort of purposeless, petty tyrants with which public education is infested zero tolerance is a god send.

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        Allen. Sorry I wasn’t more clear. Problem with ZT is that it will eventually reflect reality. As in disparate impacts.
        The reason for it is to prevent the use of discretion which, with intelligent admins, reflects reality. Dumb admins get CYA.
        The point of the current problem is that reality is not supposed to be reflected, whether it comes from the use of intelligent discretion or ZT.
        Now, discretion is supposed to be a matter of discernment; is the alleged perp a member of an Accredited Victim Group.
        There will be howlers of idiocy with this, as well.

  3. Yes, it’s a pitiful dodge around the need to make judgments, but ZT is now meeting disparate impact. Different racial/ethnic groups commit infractions at vastly different rates and that must not be admitted; it must be racism, so school districts (including my kids’ old county) are mandating racially-proportionate disciplinary actions and safe and orderly schools be dammed. A lot of that went on when my kids were in the district, 20 years ago, but it’s now an actual regulation (as of about a year ago). Why does anyone wonder why so many parents want to get their kids out of the public system, into a magnet or into specific geographic areas where kids are decently socialized? You can bet that the politicians, judges and educrats making and enforcing such idiocy don’t have their kids in schools where this is a real issue.