By: Daniel Nardini
Whenever I did something bad in school (which was rare), the principal might have me in the office for an hour or might call my mother is if was really serious. Suspension was virtually unheard of for any student back then, and total expulsion never happen. These last mentioned measures would have been considered extreme, and they certainly were not used. When I read about schools today actually suspending students for not tucking in their shirts, calling the police for a student talking back to a teacher, or some teacher actually beating up a student for not complying fast enough with some command, I cringe and wonder why so many of our schools have gone mad?!
In a settlement with the school district for Mobile County, Alabama, the Southern Poverty Law Center has helped protect the rights of students who were in effect living in a police state. Students were getting suspended for minor “infractions” such as talking too much in the hallways, not tucking in their shirts, not complying with teachers’ commands fast enough, and using the police against students who did NOT commit violent acts. The Law Center has helped establish a norm where the use of police, suspensions and outright expulsion can only be used in extreme cases involving violence and where there is a clear and present danger. Among the terms of the agreement, a suspension must be approved by a superintendent and the principal, and that a hearing must be held on why a suspension is necessary. Those suspended must be entitled to a hearing, and until that hearing a student should be allowed to stay in school unless they are a threat. Finally, students on long-term suspensions must be given the chance to do their classwork and homework at home or at a designated place.
In too many cases, the zero tolerance policy has become a policy for a school police state where even minor infractions could and are too often punished with extreme force. And too often those on the receiving end are racial and ethnic minorities such as African Americans and Latinos. Do we want them to grow up believing that punishment must be extreme, harsh and without mercy or humanity? Apparently this is happening all too much in too many school districts across the country. We may need more lawsuits to fight for the rights of students across the United States against zero tolerance policies gone mad.