Sunday, May 3, 2009

Zero Tolerance Policies - Do They Work?

Zero Tolerance Policies - Do They Work?

In a word - NO. In a few words Zero Tolerance Policies aren't worth the paper they're written on.
Strong words - certainly but I'm basing this assessment on my 16 year experience as an elected School trustee on two separate school boards in two different Provinces, during which one school board wrote and implemented a Zero Tolerance Policy and seeing the effects of a ZTP on students & staff while serving on another board.

Zero Tolerance Policies are put in place in response to the fears and complaints of Parents and staff who want to feel protected by something - anything. The resulting policy is hastily adopted and entered into School District policy. This is akin to carving it in stone. Once implemented as policy it is immovable and unalterable - and the common phrase is heard "it is in policy - we had no option, we had to follow policy".

My most memorable experience with ZTPs came when the school board on which I serving was asked to consider an application from a suspended student to be allowed back into one of our schools. When the trustees arrived at the meeting we learned the student was a six year old Grade one student who had been suspended for six weeks.

His Crime? He had found a old, rusty penknife in the playground - so rusty the blades wouldn't open, and had chased a classmate while holding it saying "I'm going to get you". And for this he was suspended for six weeks.
He appeared at the meeting confused and scared and tearfully promised never to do it again. If indeed he even knew what he'd done that was so terrible.

After the meeting we asked the Principal why he had suspended the student, his reply was that he had no choice, the policy stated that any student who brought a weapon to school must be suspended for six weeks.

And what did the student learn from this? Probably that school is a Kafkaesk place where he could be punished for doing something - anything a terrifying adult deemed wrong and that this adult could levy heavy punishment for this error.

I am sure this policy did this student far more damage than he could have even done with the rusty penknife he found.

This rant is inspired by the recent events in Keswick, Ontario where an asian student was suspended by the Principal of the High School. His crime, after being subjected to racial epithets and being physically attacked by a "superior" white student the asian kid reacted with a punch that broke his attacker's nose.

The Principal ignored the bullying that had gone on and instead decided to punish the victim, not an unusual reaction, its all too common for the victim in bullying situations to be singled out for punishment while the bullies are sent on their way unpunished in any way.

Later the cousin of the first bully got in on the act and began threatening the Asian student, who did not react.

The following day 400 students in the High School walked out in protest of the unfair suspension of the Asian student, prompting the local police to re-open the case and investigate it as a hate crime.
Meanwhile, the well informed Principal, citing the School District's Zero Tolerance Policy, stated that the victim, the Asian student would be expelled from her High School - not only that but that he would be barred from applying to any other school in the School District.

This is a large SD in Ontario covering a large area. For this student to attend school in another School District his family would have to uproot and move to another area entirely.

So the bullying victim and his whole family is to be punished all because of the School district's Zero Tolerance Policy.

Still convinced ZTP's work?