Support VSSA Advertisers

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Some Virginia Schools Rethinking "Zero-Tolerance" Rules

This morning's Washington Post has this story about how more schools systems, including some in Virginia, are rethinking the use of so-called "zero-tolerance" rules.  Some would more correctly call them zero-commonsense rules.  Born out of the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994, school systems went to the extreme and have over the past twenty years suspended or expelled kids for simply drawing a picture of a gun or pointing their fingers like a gun at another kid.
The shift is a quiet counterpoint to a long string of high-profile cases about severe punishments for childhood misjudgments. In recent months, a high school lacrosse player was suspended in Easton, Md., and led away in handcuffs for having a pocketknife in his gear bag that he said was for fixing lacrosse sticks. Earlier, a teenager in the Virginia community of Spotsylvania was expelled for blowing plastic pellets through a tube at classmates.
Now some schools are looking to a more measured approach to school discipline. School administrators are increasingly focused on the fallout of suspensions, which are linked to lower academic achievement and students dropping out.

One example comes from Delaware.  In the Christina School District, "zero-tolerance" cases were a repeated issue.  In 2009, a 6-year-old with a camping utensil that included a knife was suspended in 2009. The district revamped their discipline procedures last year, giving administrators the discretion to consider a student’s intent and grade, as well as the risk of harm. After the change, out-of-school suspensions in the state’s largest school system fell by one-third in a year.

But just because they are backing away from "zero-tolerance" does not mean we should necessarily applaud the new policy replacing it.
One widely popular strategy, known as positive behavior support, uses structured methods for teaching behavior, with prompting, practice and intervention. Suspensions still occur, but the goal is to keep problems from happening in the first place. Nationally, 14,000 schools are involved — including schools in the District and in Loudoun, Alexandria, Fairfax, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Prince William counties.
"Positive Behavior Support" sounds a lot like an open invitation to indoctrinate against behaviors - say the use of firearms - that some might find offensive.  I no more want someone telling my kids that guns are bad simply because they are guns than I want them to suspend one of them for drawing a picture of someone hunting with a gun.

Schools should encourage the participation of parents in any policy changes to make sure they are not replacing one bad policy with another bad policy.  The Post reports in the story that those school systems that have revised their discipline policies to move away from one-size fits all "zero tolerance" rules have seen a reduction in suspensions.  That is good news.  We can only hope that the practice of treating every incident equally regardless of severity is on the way out.

1 comment:

Andy said...

I agree, "Positive Behaviour Support" doesn't sound good.

But I thought the problem we have here in Virginia was that our legislature actually codified some of this silly zero-tolerance?