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Schools rethinking zero tolerance

Now, this is good news: “Nearly two decades after a zero-tolerance culture took hold in American schools, a growing number of educators and elected leaders are scaling back discipline policies that led to lengthy suspensions and ousters for such mistakes as carrying toy guns or Advil,” the Washington Post reports. Launched by the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994, during a period when being tough on crime was a popular political position, and cemented by fears arising from the Columbine High shooting spree in 1999, the zero-tolerance approach is now being seeing as less than effective by more and more school officials. “The shift is a quiet counterpoint to a long string of high-profile cases about severe punishments for childhood misjudgments,” according to the Post. It says school personnel are seeking out “more calibrated” approaches than instant suspensions, which – not surprisingly – are linked to lower academic achievement and students dropping out. In Indiana, there’s even a new law requiring schools to review zero-tolerance policies and “modernize” school discipline. The Post gives a number of examples of schools rethinking suspension as able to accomplish anything close to behavior change. What’s taking its place? Where zero-tolerance tolerance is going down (and there are still too many schools and districts where it remains in place), it’s being replaced with “positive behavior support” strategies (see this) and “restorative justice” programs that focus on “recognizing mistakes and repairing harm.” [See also instructional designer Ali Carr-Chellman’s view of zero tolerance in her TED Talk about reengaging boys in learning; “Zero tolerance = zero intelligence: Juvenile judge“; “Cyberbullying and … second chances?“; and “Clicks, cliques & cyberbullying: Whole school response is key.”]

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