Zero Sense

Draconian school policies


For 10 years, social scientists have been studying the effects of "zero tolerance" school policies, which treat any technical infraction as harshly as possible, without regard to mitigating circumstances, the rule breaker's intentions, or proportionality. In an August report reviewing that decade of research, the American Psychological Association finds a rich legacy of bureaucratic silliness but little evidence that the rules benefit the kids they're supposed to protect.

The examples of zero tolerance enforcement cited in the study include expulsions for possessing Tylenol, for having a knife in a lunchbox (placed there by Mom to cut a lunchtime apple), for talking on a cell phone (to Mom, a soldier on duty in Iraq), and for watching other kids fight (which got 15 kids expelled in a single incident). One child spent 14 months traveling through a school's juvenile justice system for taking a lollipop from a jar in a classroom. The student thought the lollipops were meant to be there for the taking.

The report found that one of the major reasons offered for no-mercy enforcement, preventing school violence, doesn't necessarily hold up: "The data have consistently indicated that school violence and disruption have remained stable, or even decreased somewhat, since approximately 1985."