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Where Do We Draw the Line When It Comes to Zero Tolerance in Schools?

  • It is with good reason that the Justice Department has urged schools to abandon their zealous enforcement of zero tolerance policies. Some administrators are reluctant to do so because zero tolerance policies allow administrators to deflect blame for their actions by saying “I’m just enforcing the policy.” But the Due Process Clause requires schools to treat students fairly. That means exercising judgment to distinguish behaviors that merit punishment from those that don’t. The wise exercise of discretion might be more difficult than the blind enforcement of a zero tolerance policy, but it is also more just.
  • Related: The West’s War on Children

T.C. Kelly, Free Advice Legal  July 9, 2016 | Schools often adopt “zero tolerance” policies to enforce rules they deem to be particularly important. Critics argue that “zero tolerance” equates with “zero thinking.” Rather than exercising the discretion and sound judgment for which school officials are paid, the application of “one size fits all, no exception” policies shields administrators from the burden of making decisions.

Zero tolerance policies are a questionable means of achieving worthy ends. Keeping drugs out of schools is a desirable goal, but zero tolerance policies have resulted in children being expelled or banished to alternative schools for taking Tylenol or Midol. Surely a school principal should know the difference between Ecstasy and aspirin and should be capable of treating them differently.

T.C. Kelly regularly authors legal content on on a part-time basis.

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The West’s War on Children, Bruce Frohnen, The Imaginative Conservative / Intellectual Takeout

  • The prejudice against children begins from an immoderate desire for order.
  • Special Project | The War on Children: Week Ending  January 9, 2016