Saturday, September 7, 2013

Is Stop-and-Frisk as Flawed as Zero Tolerance Policies in Schools?

Is Stop-and-Frisk as Flawed as Zero Tolerance Policies in Schools?
By Dr. Jonathan T. Jefferson
Author of MUGAMORE: Succeeding without Labels – Lessons for Educators

There is no empirical evidence that New York City’s stop-and-frisk practice by police has had a significant impact on the reduction in crime.  In a recent New Yorker interview, Mayor Bloomberg himself said, “If I had a son who was stopped, I might feel differently about it.”  Soon to be reported current research may further dampen the ethos of stop-and-frisk.  Another equally damaging, widely used, and seldom debated policy is that of zero tolerance policies in schools.  Unlike stop-and-frisk, there is mounting evidence against the results of zero tolerance.

“Decisions based on zero tolerance policies can have seriously harmful consequences, in particular for first-time offenders-consequences that impair academic progress, reputation, career opportunities, and emotional development especially with regard to trust in the educational system”  (Kajs, 2006, p. 26).  In a study by Kajs (2006), the consequences for an eighth-grade student who brought a pencil sharpener to school happens far too often.  The student’s parent bought the device in South Korea, because it was the same type of sharpener the parent used as a child.  The sharpener had a two-inch blade that folded into the handle.  This high-performing student was removed from the position of student council president, kicked out of the honor society, and required to attend a disciplinary class for a week.  These apparently harsh consequences were met with a federal lawsuit.  Could not reasonable educators see that this was an honest error?  It would seem that simply informing the parent and child, and perhaps issuing a warning, was all this entire event warranted.  However, “zero tolerance laws and policies can prevent school administrators from applying creative and tailored responses to infractions by students” (Kajs, 2006, p. 21).

As a four-year-old kindergarten student in 1974, I was curious about what was behind the large door at the rear of my classroom.  When I saw a girl go behind the door, I thought it was permissible for students to go back there; hence, I followed her.  It turns out the door led to the bathroom.  I sat in a corner of the bathroom while my classmate used the toilet until the teacher’s assistant came in to tell me to return to my seat.  That was the end of it.  I shudder to think how a four-year-old would be treated today.  Would a zero tolerance policy have labeled me a sexual deviant, and placed me in a specialized school while being heavily medicated?  According to Verdugo (2002), the lack of clarity in zero tolerance policies do not consider a student’s intent [innocent curiosity], or circumstances related to the behavior [unfamiliar environment].

Working as a school administrator, I often hear colleagues advocating for treating all students equally.  Hearing this makes me cringe.  Often times, equal consequences are not fair.  Should an eighth-grade honor student with a two-inch sharpener, who has never been in trouble, be treated the same as a high school gang member with a two-inch shank?  How about a four-year-old kindergarten student unwittingly entering a bathroom with a girl being disciplined the same as a 17-year-old boy knowingly entering a bathroom with a girl?  Clearly, equal would not be fair.  Casella (2003) makes the point that discipline policies that criminalize youth cannot be successful.

Casella, R.  (2003). Zero tolerance policy in schools: Rationale, consequences, and alternatives.  Teachers College Record, 105(5), 872-892.

Kajs, L. T.  (2006). Reforming the discipline management process in schools: An alternative approach to zero tolerance.  Educational Research Quarterly, 29(4), 16-28.

Verdugo, R. R.  (2002). Race-ethnicity, social class, and zero-tolerance policies.  Education and Urban Society, 35, 50-75.  doi:10.1177/001312402237214

No comments:

Post a Comment