Saturday 20 November 2010

Advocate: Zero Tolerance By Schools Incites Troubled Teens

Zero tolerance, a widely used policy to keep violence, weapons and drugs off school grounds, is used by some school districts as a policy of punishment for any type of offense, a youth advocate said.
Some have even said that the policy is the first step in the school-to-prison pipeline.
Rana Miller said her son has been a victim of zero tolerance. She didn't want to tell WAPT News her son's name or the schools he's attended. But she did say that her son has spent a lot of time at the Henley Young Juvenile Justice Center instead of in school.
"School has already labeled him as being a bad child. But that hasn't really given him a fair chance," Miller said.

Miller admitted that her son is not perfect. She said he has an emotional disability and he got into a fight trying to protect his sister, who was being bullied. Miller said the next thing she knew, he was headed to jail.
"He was entering on the bus and singing a rap song. The bus driver immediately told him to leave the bus. He asked him what he had done, and he said he used a curse word and he was going to be arrested," Miller said.

Miller's son spent 10 days at Henley Young. She said she believes school leaders dropped the ball and now her son has been labeled as a troublemaker for minor issues, and he doesn't want to go back to school.
"He's not getting the education he needs. He's hasn't been in school. He went from alternative school, to the detention center and then back at home," Miller said.

Jed Oppenheim is part of the Mississippi Youth Justice Project. He said he recently visited kids in youth detention centers who were sent there for popping gum in class and not getting up to take a pencil from a teacher -- all because of zero tolerance. Oppenheim said two-thirds of the children in detention nationwide are there for non-violent, minor offenses.
"They don't take every child's strengths and needs into account," Oppenheim said. "Too often, it's about a one-size-fits-all approach toward discipline."

Oppenheim said he knows cursing in school, or on a school bus, isn't OK, but he said there's a better way to handle it. Oppenheim said school leaders should be held accountable, because there's a better approach for non-violent behavior problems.

Jackson Public Schools is trying an alternative program in elementary and middle schools, called Positive Behavior Intervention System, or PBIS. At Spann Elementary, teachers and students come up with expectations about positive behavior and positive relationships. Teacher Carrie Wilson said the school was a lot different before PBIS.

"We had lots of office referrals. If a student did anything, from a minor behavior to a major behavior, they were taken straight to the office. The office got overworked with too many referrals to handle, when a lot of that we could be handling in our classrooms," Wilson said.

Wilson said Spann teachers and administrators broke up lots of fights last year. After just a few months of PBIS, she said there were no more fights.
"We see the results. Our behavior is just so much better. For the first three months of school, no one was in in-school suspension," Wilson said.

"Zero tolerance policies, bullying -- they lead to school push-out. It's called dropout, but it really is a push-out, right? You're taking kids who can succeed, but every little thing that they're doing, you're saying, 'Get out of here,'" Oppenheim said.

The Mississippi Youth Project said 75 percent of inmates in state prison are high school dropouts. Miller said she believes schools should spent more money on social workers and counselors to help students like her son. She's worried zero tolerance will end up putting her son on a permanent path to prison.

"Every problem is not the same. Every punishment should not be the same," Miller said.

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