Zero tolerance: School discipline in the aftermath of Newtown
Last year I was asked to speak to a local attorney group on the topic of student discipline within the Maryland public school system. The Maryland State Board of Education had recently commissioned an exhaustive report on school discipline practice and policy. MSDE and the Board proposed sweeping changes designed to overthrow the discredited old policies of “zero tolerance” and the educational abandonment of students then institutionalized under zero tolerance.
That, however, was all before the Newtown shooting massacre occurred. The horrific tragedy at Newtown by an armed intruder on school grounds has nothing to do with policies of student discipline. Nor should it undermine the laudable work done at MSDE and its new board.
Sadly, however, some recent cases of student discipline reported in the media reveal an alarming resurgence of zero-tolerance by some school administrators against students who even mention the Newtown massacre during school in any but the most sanitized circumstances. And woe be to any student who thinks to joke about the tragedy by pointing a finger at another, much less the ton of bricks that befall even the youngest child in school who brings a toy gun to school.
The Newtown hysteria seen recently by a handful of, no doubt, well-intentioned but plainly misguided, school administrators, who have suspended and ordered so-called risk/threat assessments of students before they may resume classes for innocent if childish behavior, must end now.