Years of Absurd Outcomes (and Maybe Real Competition?) Prompt Reconsideration of "Zero Tolerance" School Policies


Today the Los Angeles Times explores the possibility that states and school districts might finally be easing off on its various "zero tolerance" policies that have frequently led to absurd, overwrought responses to normal child misbehavior.

The trigger in Colorado was the recent suspension of 6-year-old D'Avonte Meadows for singing LMFAO's "[I'm] Sexy and I Know It" to a girl. The song, a vicious indictment of delusional overconfidence (well, that's my reading of it – no doubt scholars will be debating the subtext for centuries to come), prompted his elementary school to label Meadows a sexual harasser:

One week after D'Avonte was suspended, Colorado lawmakers passed a bill easing disciplinary policies in schools.

Colorado joins a growing number of states rethinking zero-tolerance policies requiring expulsion or suspension for behavior or actions that might once have meant a stern talking to or a visit to the principal's office. Now lawmakers want to give educators flexibility.

In California the Legislature is considering nine bills aimed at limiting school discipline. One would require schools that suspend more than 25% of their students to adopt strategies aimed at reducing behavior that leads to suspension.

"Schools are too prone to send kids home from school — by imposing out-of-school suspensions — even for behavior that doesn't pose a safety threat, and the Legislature has made it too easy," said Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento) in a recent news release. He's written several of the bills.

The Times story documents a number of other absurd outcomes that have come from zero tolerance policies (we have reported plenty here in our Brickbat section if you feel the urge to facepalm) and points out groups like the American Bar Association and American Psychological Association question the effectiveness of the policies.

But the Times story doesn't delve into two other significant developments in the education market that may be contributing to administrators and lawmakers looking for reasons to stop kicking kids out of school:

The rise of charter schools: The Colorado League of Charter Schools lists more than 150 charter schools in their state.  California has nearly 1,000 charter schools serving more than 400,000 students. Gone are the days where school administrations could push unreasonable policies onto families and students and ignore the outcries. In the Times story, D'Avonte's mother discusses the possibility of transferring her boy to another school rather than continuing to tolerate the nonsense. Each kid that switches from public to charter school costs that public school money. Education unions have been fighting charter schools tooth and nail, but they are losing. And those losses lead to …

We are out of money: In the current economic environment, schools simply can't afford to be kicking kids out. School funding is tied to attendance. Every suspension, every expulsion results in a loss of school funding for that student's absence. With layoffs on the line, the schools need adolescent butts sitting at every desk. The pressure to pull back on suspensions was mounting in California even before Dickinson's bills. Truancy sweeps are common occurrences California, and school administrators are not shy about admitting they're partly about capturing that daily funding.

Now, if only the NYPD would take note.