Sunday, October 16, 2016

School Zero Tolerance Policy Consequences

It’s easy to apply a punishment standard to various serious school policy violations, but does anyone really consider the consequences of the punishment?  There are obvious violations that should have more severe penalties than others.  Violations that can injure people are more significant than painting graffiti on a building.  Bringing a real gun to school should have a more severe punishment than someone chewing a Pop Tart into the shape of a gun, yet both will get you expelled (the Pop Tart isn’t hypothetical – it happened; and a Pop Tart shouldn’t even warrant more than a brief discussion – if anything at all).  Bullying or racial slurs can result in suspension or expulsion.  Stupid behavior by adolescents can result in future-altering changes (positive or negative).

The problem is the punishment should fit the crime.  School administrators should be able to deal with issues on a case-by-case basis.  Federal funding and litigation has changed this.  Bringing a gun to school carries an automatic expulsion for a minimum of one year.  A school district’s failure to adopt this policy will result in loss of federal funding.  Consider two scenarios:

•    Student #1 brings a weapon to school with malicious intent.
•    Student #2 borrows his father’s car to drive to school, only to later realize there is a weapon in the trunk.  He/she tells a school administrator about it to avoid getting into trouble.

Student #1 should certainly have a very serious consequence (perhaps with mandatory counseling), but should student #2 have the same consequence?  What if the weapon in the trunk was an Airsoft or a bright orange plastic replica?  Policy sees no difference in these clearly different scenarios and result in the same punishment.  Does this make sense?

Schools are terrified of an accusation of treating people differently, so looking at every situation as a black and white issue takes away the burden of having to analyze and evaluate the situation to find a remedy that benefits the school, society, and the student.

But what about the student?  A student with malice should be treated differently than one who made a poor decision or had no intent to violate a policy.  Still, the severity of the punishment should have some relation to the severity of the violation on which it is based.  Schools either cannot or will not do this.

So a student commits a sin at school and is punished.  What is the effect on their future?  The intent of punishment is to change behavior.  The greater the infraction, the more severe the punishment.  Aside from students with malicious intent, are children not allowed to make dumb mistakes?  Should two students calling each other names or fighting be treated as criminals?

Do school administrators consider the effect of severe punishment on the student?  Young people with little life experience don’t clearly appreciate that the challenges they face at sixteen are different than at forty.  A break-up can be just as stressful and painful to them as a divorce is to an adult.  Stress is based on what you know at the time.

My son’s high school has a policy in which racial incidents (slurs or otherwise) will result in two options: expulsion or take a three-day suspension with a catch: two of the days are served in juvenile detention.  To further the “scared straight” approach the student must stand before a county judge in a courtroom prior to incarceration.  I cannot grasp the justification of treating the violators as criminals.  How is incarceration even a remotely balanced punishment for this?  In addition, the violator is thrown off any teams or clubs.

What is the impact of on the student?  It is highly competitive to get into any college.  The application process seems to be all-inclusive of the student’s life.  Suspension or any discipline must be reported in the application and certainly doesn’t help them.  And not being able to participate in the team or club can be another significant stress to them.  Further, the stigma of what happened can be overwhelming.  What about the experience in juvenile detention?  How might this affect the student, who may already recognize the stupidity of his action?  Wouldn’t a mandatory training course on racial issues be more appropriate than forcibly blending them with actual criminals?  Why don’t parents have some influence when dealing with their child’s transgressions?  The school has usurped parental responsibility.

Last week such a thing happened.  A bright student, who came from a solid and loving family, was faced with the choice of expulsion or suspension/juvenile detention for a racial incident.  As a junior he would be getting ready for the college application process.  He plays an instrument in the marching band, a very close group who spend countless hours together.  From his perspective he might see his college hopes crushed.  He could further see losing his position in the band with all of his friends and the camaraderie.  Not understanding that there could be resolution to all of this, he went straight home and ended his life.  I recognize there were likely other issues but this event served as a trigger for someone needing help.

This tragedy both saddens me beyond words and sickens me.  A promising young man with a bright future and his whole life ahead of him saw his future crushed by school policy.  This was avoidable.  The school and entire school board is culpable.  They should first spend time experiencing the incarceration they advocate.  They should then have to face the parents whom they have directly harmed.  They should then pay financially to something that helps students learn and grow.

And then they should be fired.