This morning I heard a commentary on Zero Tolerance policies in schools while listening to WTOP Core Values commentary. Chris Core asked listeners to visit their website and leave comments (which I did). Of course, being the activist/advocate that I am, I could not stop there.
After working in child welfare for two decades, I have seen countless lives ruined, yes ruined, by Zero Tolerance policies. Take for example, my neighbor’s granddaughter who was struggling with mental health issues. When she foolishly took a butter knife to school, she was banned from continued attendance and sent to a school for children with ‘behavioral challenges’. She went from being a ‘barely-hanging-on outcast’ in her home school to being a ‘constantly-bullied-and-berated misfit’ among a group of violent youth, most of whom had committed serious crimes. Within days, she began actively attempting to seriously harm herself.
What she needed was mental health services and understanding school officials willing to work on a plan to help her better integrate into her school. Instead of receiving services like Positive Behavioral Supports, she was cast aside and left to fend for herself in a school that she was ill-equipped, emotionally or intellectually, to handle. Ultimately she landed in a child psychiatric unit; thus beginning a long line of failed placements and emotional damage.
Cookie-cutter approaches like Zero Tolerance DO NOT WORK!
Want to see a more catastrophic outcome? Check out the following article about an Omaha teen’s drastic actions in response to Zero Tolerance.