Zero Tolerance Policies

Here we go again. This time the story is about a middle school girl who gave an over-the-counter pain reliever (Midol) to a friend. She was then summarily expelled from school for violating the zero-tolerance drug policy.

These policies owe their existence to the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994 which require a one-year expulsion of students who bring a weapon on campus. States were required to implement such a policy or lose their federal funding. From there it has grown, in many states, to include drugs of any description whether legal or not, alcohol, tobacco, fighting and anything that could loosely described as a weapon. Now enshrined in statute, administrators are powerless to exercise good judgment and must expel for infractions we would all agree are silly.

Clearly these laws need to be rewritten. But that is for the society beyond our schoolhouse doors to do. We have to live with this and indeed protect our students from draconian outcomes.

It simply isn’t enough to send home a list of “Don’ts” for parents to read or sign. Time has to be spent as soon as possible during the school year telling our kids what is not allowed and what will happen. This should be done at the classroom level, not an assembly where no one is listening. Each teacher must enumerate each forbidden object, each forbidden behavior and give explicit examples. Then the students should read and sign a list of what was just covered. Yes, even the blunt-tipped scissors given to little kids was once considered a weapon resulting in an expulsion. If our legislators are going to impose these harsh measures we have to hammer it into our kids what we’re all facing.

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