by Rosa Conrad
To start off this mini-series on zero tolerance school policies and how they affect students, I first want to share how a North County, San Diego K-12 parent handbook explains zero tolerance policy. Since each school district in a city may differ, I recommend you look at your own school district website for how it is defined.
[The] Unified School District has long maintained a zero tolerance policy that is supported by state law. State law mandates the Board of Education expel students for:
- Possession, sale, or furnishing of a firearm.
- Brandishing a knife.
- Sale of drugs.
- Committing or attempting to commit sexual assault or battery.
- Possession of explosives.
State law requires a school administrator to recommend expulsion if a student commits one of the following offenses:
- Causing serious physical injury to another person except in self-defense.
- Possession of any knife or other dangerous object of no reasonable use to the student.
- Unlawful possession of any drug except for the first time offense of possession of not more than one ounce of marijuana.
- Robbery or extortion.
- Assault or battery upon a school employee.
[The] Unified School District Board of Education requires a school administrator to recommend expulsion if a student is found to be in possession of or using a laser pointer in school, on the bus, walking to or from school, or at a school activity off grounds. This act is a violation of Board Policy…(Suspension and Expulsion/Due Process), as well as Education Code…
As it states above, a school administrator has the authority to make the decision on how to apply discipline if a student has violated their zero tolerance policy. While the school has the right and responsibility to do so, some cases have shown school teachers and administrators to act excessively with children when they behaved inappropriately at school.
For example, Aull H. Elbert draws attention to how many students in the U.S. education system have been arrested by law enforcement and treated as criminals. The author shares the experience of a young Latina in middle school that was arrested, handcuffed, and taken to a local police department. When her mother asked to see her, she was denied the request while the thirteen-year old girl had been handcuffed to a pole for two hours. The reason for her arrest was because she drew on her desk with a dry erase marker. She later was given a sentence of doing community hours as punishment. As I read this article, I wondered why it had been necessary to involve police to address this behavior. As a parent, I would have the following questions:
What risk did she present to her teacher, school staff, and police officers?
What was the reason for her mother being denied to talk to her?
Would it have been more appropriate for the school principal and her teacher to address the issue in school and have a meeting with the parent instead of involving law enforcement?
Her teacher and school principal decided that the girl’s actions warranted calling law enforcement instead of addressing it at school and consulting with her parents. The girl was treated like a criminal and was arrested in front of her classmates, and taken to the police department where she was further humiliated by being handcuffed to a pole.
Elbert in his article addresses how zero tolerance policy in schools needs to be reevaluated and more importantly, how this policy contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline. In this series on zero tolerance school policies, I will look into the different ways zero tolerance in schools is being addressed as well as its impact on the students and parents.