Friday, January 21, 2005

State Of Texas Re-Examines "Zero Tolerance" Student Discipline

In a sign that the "education pendulum" may be swinging yet again, The Houston Chronicle has an interesting article that says the Texas legislature is taking a look at imposing new limits on school districts that adopt "Zero Tolerance" discipline policies.

Zero Tolerance discipline was originally envisioned as being a fair and equitable way of imposing consequences on students that engaged in violent behaviors or were in possession of firearms, illegal drugs, and drug paraphernalia.

The push to change policies has been spurred-on by a number of well-publicized incidents where students been brought up on misdemeanor criminal charges and/or expelled (as dictated by Zero Tolerance) for what would appear to be relatively minor breaches of discipline. Among the examples cited are:

  • students engaging in classroom/playground horseplay with classmates
  • a 13-year-old girl was expelled for bringing a butter knife to school (the girl said that as she had braces in her teeth, she needed the knife to slice apples given to her at lunchtime.
  • a number of students have been expelled for using profanity

Other stories have mentioned students being expelled for having "Midol," nail clippers, and scissors. (We profiled one such case involving a ten-year-old girl being arrested for having scissors in her bookbag here.)

There have been many such horror stories reported in the media during the last few years. A credible argument can be made that something should be done in order to allow for "extenuation circumstances" to mitigate statutory punishments.

That having been said, we here at The Education Wonks think that it would be a good idea to examine "Zero Tolerance" laws in order to see if they do need to be amended in order to allow judges and school administrators to take into account "extenuating circumstances."

We are in favor of long as "extenuating circumstances" doesn't become some sort of "escape clause" that can (and will) be used by the wealthy or influential in order to get their progeny off the hook when they get caught being naughty.

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