Is Zero Tolerance Realistic?
A topic of importance that has been in the news recently is whether zero tolerance is needed in schools. Students are able to get expelled for smoking cigarettes to carrying weapons. Many times the crimes that the students are expelled for are not serious enough to warrant the punishment. Other people feel that unless some method of discipline is imposed upon the children they will continue to behave in the exact same manner. I feel that zero tolerance is an extreme method of punishment that is not needed for many of the times that it is used and can cause students not to return to school, commit crimes, and doesn?t give them the chance to change.
In a recent topic of interest in the news, the Rev. Jesse Jackson was arrested for protesting the expulsion of six high school students for fighting at a football game with the seventh student leaving voluntarily. I think that expulsion in this case is the wrong plan of action because more than one of those seven students will more than likely never return to school. After a student has been out of school for a long period of time it is hard for them to return. They receive no follow-up education because alternative education costs too much. Where does that leave the students? These students have no place to go but to the street. ?More than 80% of students expelled from school never return and 90% of the inmates in jails and prisons never graduated from high school? (Jackson 3). These percentages help prove that zero tolerance is not always the best policy. By removing those children from a controlled environment where they are watched and taught, the school board has now placed an uneducated child on the street where his only teachers are criminals. They are left to fend for themselves in a world that is not nice to uneducated people. People, without a degree of some kind, have a difficult time acquiring a decent job that pays enough to support themselves and often a family.
Another reason that expulsion is too extreme is that a few of the students will turn to crime as a way of life. The students now have no moral guidance from a responsible adult that they used to receive at school. They now have to turn to people on the streets to receive the guidance that they need. They also have a lot of free time on their hands. They have to ability and reason to commit crimes and some will. They all won?t but a majority will.
Zero tolerance does not give the students the ability to look at their actions and change them. By expelling the students they do not have the chance to contemplate what they did wrong. They leave school and move on with their lives. Zero tolerance may help keep school violence to a minimum but the school boards are adding to the criminal population on the streets each time they expel or suspend a student. Also, by expelling a student you do not give them the chance to change their way of life. Some children are confused and know no other way of life. Many children were raised in an abusive family and violence is the only way they know to express themselves. Everyone has the right to an education and if the child is a problem there are special classes that they can be put in. By not giving these children a chance to change you are putting them on a path to failure. Zero tolerance is an unjust method of ridding schools of problem children.
On the other hand, some people feel that zero tolerance is an excellent way to keep school violence to a minimum. ?The punishment is swift and often preordained, not unlike the determinate sentencing we see in the adult criminal courts? (Kotlowitz 1). The punishment is dealt out quickly and takes affect immediately. It rids the school of someone who might harm another student, but that student may not have tried to harm someone on purpose. It could have been an accident but they would still receive the same punishment that someone who did it on purpose would receive. It is completely unfair. Zero tolerance is also a way for a principal who is faced with a crucial problem to deal with quickly and justly. Principals have a lot of responsibilities. They have to burden of protecting the students and staff from outbursts of violence. When they have a set punishment for a crime, the students know what will happen if they disobey the laws. The community needs to support the school so that the students understand that they will receive the set punishment if they commit an act of violence. ?To back away from zero-tolerance policy places students and faculty in harm?s way and enhances the probability of future acts of violence? (Tirozzi 2). Zero tolerance helps to control these dangers in school by removing them. It is needed to keep control in school. The problem with that idea is that by removing every student that commits an act of violence does not assure the complete safety of the school. They could return and harm other students or faculty because they were angry that they had been expelled. Even if they are not in school it doesn?t mean that the violence will stop.
I feel that in the future zero tolerance needs to be looked at more carefully because many times it can ruin a child?s life accidentally. By placing a child on the street you are asking for trouble. Children are impressionable and are easily swayed by peer pressure. Many of the children that are expelled from school will turn to a life of crime. We, as a society, can prevent that by changing our way of looking at the policy of zero tolerance.
?Growing zeal for tolerance ignores needs of troubled
youth.? USA Today 22 November 1999, 27A.
Howlett, Debbie. ?Jackson arrested in protest at school.?
USA Today 17 November 1999, 3A.
Johnson, Dirk. ?Jackson Arrested in Protest Over
Expulsions of Students.? New York Times 17
November 1999, 16A.
New York Times 13 November 1999, 15A.
Levin, Michael I. Pennsylvania School Personnel Actions.
Pennsylvania: West Publishing, 1994.
Tirozzi, Gerald N. ?Zero tolerance is necessary.? USA Today
22 November 1999, 27A.