The Herald Bulletin

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Editorials

January 22, 2014

Editorial: Schools should rethink zero-tolerance discipline

T hree strikes. Zero-tolerance. Out-of-school suspensions.

All tough-on-crime policies popular in schools during the 1980s and ‘90s. All outdated in a 21st-century educational environment.

At least that’s the stance of the Obama administration, which last week pressed the nation’s school systems to abandon “overly zealous discipline policies” that it says create a pipeline from the classroom to court and prison. Attorney General Eric Holder called such policies “well-intentioned” but said they ultimately land a student in a police precinct instead of the principal’s office.

School districts across the country seem to agree. Even before the announcement, more schools were taking action to adjust their policies, especially in light of growing evidence these rules disproportionally affect minority students.

It’s important to recognize not every discipline situation is the same. A variety of circumstances make each incident unique. And the students themselves – and the type of discipline they respond to – are very different.

Certain offenses undoubtedly should remain under the zero-tolerance umbrella. Carrying a weapon into school is a matter for school security and local law enforcement.

But schools would do well to take the government’s recommendations into consideration. A teacher or administrator is likely to know more about a student’s situation – at home and at school – than an officer in a precinct.

Instead of taking routine discipline out of educators and administrators’ hands, it makes more sense to train them in techniques to manage classrooms, resolve conflicts and diffuse classroom disruptions.

A school’s mission should be to help students learn from their mistakes, not hand them off to others for punishment.

In summary A school's mission should be to help students learn from their mistakes, not hand them off to others for punishment.

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