Monday, November 18, 2013

Zero Tolerance in PA Leaves Many on the Outside Looking In

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA
HARRISBURG, Pa. - What began as a way to handle safety issues in schools is now being applied to many other forms of school discipline problems, and a new report shows, that in Pennsylvania, it's leaving many pupils on the outside looking in.

According to Harold Jordan of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, author of the study titled, "Beyond Zero Tolerance: Discipline and Policing in Pennsylvania Public Schools," so-called zero tolerance is now being used against a wide range of behaviors, from dress code violations to talking back. He said black students take the hardest hit, but they're not alone.

"They make up just under 14 percent of Pennsylvania public school students, but about half of the out-of-school suspensions. Students with disabilities are twice as likely to receive out-of-school suspension as students that are not classified as students with disability."

Jordan said the report shows that removing kids from the classroom comes at a high price, for both the pupils and the school.

"They tend to become disengaged from school, even when they return to school, or they tend to drop out more than other students," he warned. "And, it's pretty clear that those schools don't necessarily become more peaceful places, and less violent places, just because you're suspending a lot of kids."

Jordan said reviewing the effects of zero-tolerance policies, including situations in which they lead to pupil interaction with police, is a key to finding better alternatives.

"You need to address on the policy level, you need to give good guidance to principals, and you need to support other ways of resolving the problems that are strictly discipline problems but don't pose a physical threat of violence to the school community," Jordan said.

He said the study reveals one out of every ten Latino students in Pennsylvania was suspended at least once in the 2011-2012 academic year.

Jordan declared that the goal of the report is not to point fingers, but to start a dialogue about the best ways to promote a safe and healthy climate in schools.

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