No school wants to deal with issues like bullying, cheating, and school violence; and frankly, I do not blame them. After all, you are dealing with kids and that can already be a very difficult job. However, when do we cross the line between school safety and long-term harm of students?
Young people are going to do ‘less than smart things’ (dumb things) from time to time, that is the nature of being young. How we respond to the student who for example: brings the Swiss Army knife to school, can truly affect their lives forever. Do we slap handcuffs on that student and parade them out of school like a criminal and further ban them from learning for a year; or is possible to find out more about why the student has the pocket knife in school (perhaps they are a boy scout or they just forgot) and explain why they cannot have it school? Extreme example you say? Not really, this happens more often than we think.
“The laws and policies have been applied to students wielding weapons and to those sporting a smart mouth or a cell phone. The so-called zero-tolerance approach to discipline, once reserved for the most serious of offenses, has prompted the suspensions and expulsions of students in possession of butter knives and theater-prop swords. The federal Gun-Free Schools Act, enacted in 1994, ushered in an era of tough punishment for low-level offenses” (http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/01/10/16policies.h32.html?tkn=TSTF9WteFOPShHHYJn2PMuJnanEQVkbX6RoX&cmp=ENL-EU-NEWS2&intc=EW-QC13-ENL). Furthermore, advocacy groups—backed by research and by data collected by the U.S. Department of Education—say “the discipline machinery has a disproportionate effect on students who are black, Latino, or male and those with disabilities”.
This is not a new topic, and recent tragic events have brought out the ‘reaction machine’ again. School safety and discipline is important, but we must not forget that these rules are supposed to benefit kids not just punish them.
Let us figure this out because our students are watching us and counting on us to do the right thing. If do not figure this out, we could quietly lose more generations of kids and not understand why.
Dr Flavius A B Akerele III