In the name of zero tolerance, Texas Public Schools are treating innocent children like criminals
What does Texas and Afghanistan have in common? Both have systems in place that believe that punishing the innocent for the crimes of the guilty is not only permissible but is to be embraced so a message can be sent that any mistake whether intentional or not will be punished as harshly as possible. In Afghanistan this system is implemented by the Taliban. In Texas this system is administered by our public schools.
Since 1995 when Texas legislators declared zero tolerance on Texas public school campuses for drugs & weapons thousands of Texas schoolchildren each year have found themselves suspended and/or expelled through the guidance of chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code. Most of these students are sent to alternative education centers known as Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs (DAEPs) or Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs (JJAEPs). The latest figures from 2006 show that 140,000 students in Texas were suspended or expelled for that school year. Education advocates estimate that 10% of these students were completely innocent of their purported offense. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative research and educational think tank institute reported that there was no probable cause for charges to be filed in approximately 1/3 of all the cases where children are arrested under Texas’s current zero tolerance system.
Zero tolerance, as enforced in the majority of Texas public schools today, is a policy that punishes the innocent for the crimes of the guilty. It treats children as adult offenders without the presumption of innocence, disrupts the lives and educations of good students nearly as often as it does those of troubled students, and treats all covered offenses and all students equally, regardless of age, intent, past behavior, or magnitude of the offense. Think Salem witch trials but without the trial.
Zero tolerance policies for students adopt a theory of mandatory punishment that has been rejected by the adult criminal justice system because it is too harsh! Rather than having a variety of sanctions available for a range of school-based offenses, state law and school district policies apply the same expulsion rules to a six-year-old as to a 17-year-old; to the first time offender as to the chronic troublemaker; to the child with a gun as to the child with a Swiss Army knife.
Adults - especially those who teach children - are expected to have the skills and knowledge to teach behavior in age-appropriate ways. Unfortunately, zero tolerance as practiced in Texas today is not rooted in theories of child or adolescent development. It teaches children nothing about fairness & has created countless injustices across Texas since the policy was implemented in 1995.
When children in Texas public schools can be accused, found guilty, ticketed, often times arrested, and removed from school before parents are even notified of a problem, there is something intrinsically wrong with a system that claims to work in partnership with parents for the education and well being of their children.
On the face of it zero tolerance sounds like a simple solution to a complex problem. Most parents would agree that school is no place for drugs or weapons. However, when innocent children wind up in the juvenile justice system and/or severely punished for honest or minor childish mistakes the system is broken. Texas’s current system falls into the severely broken category. Most parents don’t think zero tolerance will ever affect their child’s life. Just ask the following Texas parents if they thought zero tolerance would ever have affected their child: