The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

February 18, 2013

Kids' suspensions renew debate over zero tolerance

(Continued)

The school told his mother if it happened again, he'd face a two-week suspension.

"Given the heightened awareness and sensitivity, we must do all that we can to ensure that all students and adults both remain safe and feel safe in schools," Czajkowski said in a statement. "To dismiss or overlook an incident that results in any member of our school community feeling unsafe or threatened would be irresponsible and negligent."

The boy's mother, Sheila Cruz-Cardosa, said school officials are responding irrationally in the wake of Sandy Hook. She said they should be concentrating on "high school kids or kids who are more of a threat, not an innocent 5-year-old who's playing with Legos."

Though Newtown introduces a wrinkle to the debate, the slew of recent high-profile suspensions over perceived threats or weapons infractions has renewed old questions about the wisdom of "zero tolerance" policies.

Conceived as a way to improve school security and maintain consistent discipline and order, zero tolerance was enshrined by a 1994 federal law that required states to mandate a minimum one-year expulsion of any student caught with a firearm on school property. Over the years, many states and school districts expanded zero tolerance to include offenses as varied as fighting, skipping school or arguing with a teacher.

Some experts say there's little evidence that zero tolerance — in which certain infractions compel automatic discipline, usually suspension or expulsion — makes schools safer, and contend the policies leads to increased rates of dropouts and involvement with the juvenile justice system. Supporters respond that zero tolerance is a useful and necessary tool for removing disruptive kids from the classroom, and say any problems stem from its misapplication.

The original 1994 federal law, and most state and local zero tolerance policies, give school administrators the flexibility to tailor punishments to fit the circumstances, noted school safety expert Kenneth Trump.

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