Tensions over school safety take “zero tolerance” to new level
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2013 01:02
In light of recent tragedies on school grounds, it’s natural that parents, administrators and students worry about the safety of their schools.
However, kids in school systems today are being punished for relatively low offenses, some of which should not even count as offenses for their age, in the name of securing school grounds.
A five-year-old was suspended last week for making “gun-fire” sounds with a Hello Kitty bubble gun. Fingers that were bent to look like a gun got another kid suspended.
In the midst of this mayhem is the Federal Gun-Free Schools Act, later referred to as a zero tolerance policy. Originally introduced by the government in 1994, it simply stated that any student caught with a firearm on school property must be expelled for at least one year. Over time, some states expanded it to include acts such as bullying, disrespecting authority figures in school and fighting — terms that are often loosely defined.
According to pediatrician Ari Brown, co-author of “Baby 411” and “Toddler 411” and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, part of the reason might be that the children are mimicking the adults in their lives, but it doesn’t mean that these children come from violent homes.
“Images of guns are all around us,” she said, “Children who
pretend to shoot each other may simply be playacting what they see on television.”
Parent Kelly Guarna, whose child was suspended, said the school treats the children as mini adults, making them grow up too fast and robbing them of their imaginations.
Zero tolerance laws were introduced because it was believed that infractions, however “minor,” would be suitably punished in order to reduce the chances of the child ever committing the crime again.
This is soundly refuted by experts, and cemented through a long-awaited study conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) which concluded that zero tolerance has not improved school security in the long run.
However, school officials continue to disagree, especially after recent events.
Mary Czajkowski, superintendent of Barnstable Public Schools in Hyannis, Mass. said, “To dismiss or overlook an incident that results in any member of our school community feeling unsafe or threatened would be irresponsible and negligent.”
According to Kenneth Trump, an expert on school safety, the law gave school administrators the flexibility to tailor punishments to fit the circumstances. And that is what administrators are taking more advantage of than ever before.
However, schools should consider the ages of the children they are punishing. According to psychologists, such behavior is normal and age-appropriate.
The imagination of children should not be restrained unless repeated offenses are committed.
Akshita Sathe is a freshman majoring in psychology and elementary education.