Faced with mounting evidence that get-tough policies in schools are leading to arrest records, low academic achievement and high dropout rates that especially affect minority students, cities and school districts around the country are rethinking their approach to minor offenses.It is important to kind of throw yourself back to there to the good old 90's and remember that suspending and expelling students for things like bringing a Tweety Bird key chain to school were reconceptualized as "gateway" offenses to more serious offending. In other words, if you're writing graffiti in the bathroom stall today, tomorrow you'll be shooting heroin, raping your mother and burning your house down. The "nip it in the bud" philosophy blossomed into the stupid of zero-tolerance.
Perhaps nowhere has the shift been more pronounced than in Broward County’s public schools. Two years ago, the school district achieved an ignominious Florida record: More students were arrested on school campuses here than in any other state district, the vast majority for misdemeanors like possessing marijuana or spraying graffiti.The Florida district, the sixth largest in the nation, was far from an outlier. In the past two decades, schools around the country have seen suspensions, expulsions and arrests for minor nonviolent offenses climb together with the number of police officers stationed at schools. The policy, called zero tolerance, first grew out of the war on drugs in the 1990s and became more aggressive in the wake of school shootings like the one at Columbine High School in Colorado.
But in November, Broward veered in a different direction, joining other large school districts, including Los Angeles, Baltimore, Chicago and Denver, in backing away from the get-tough approach.Rather than push children out of school, districts like Broward are now doing the opposite: choosing to keep lawbreaking students in school, away from trouble on the streets, and offering them counseling and other assistance aimed at changing behavior.These alternative efforts are increasingly supported, sometimes even led, by state juvenile justice directors, judges and police officers.
Some view the shift as politically driven and worry that the pendulum may swing too far in the other direction. Ken Trump, a school security consultant, said that while existing policies are at times misused by school staffs and officers, the policies mostly work well, offering schools the right amount of discretion.“It’s a political movement by civil rights organizations that have targeted school police,” Mr. Trump said. “If you politicize this on either side, it’s not going to help on the front lines.”
More punitive measures tended to make a bad situation worse. Suspended and expelled children would be home alone or on the street, falling behind academically. Those arrested could be stigmatized by criminal records.“The data showed an increase in the harshness of the disciplinary practices in schools — what was once a trip to the principal’s office is now a trip to the jail cell,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a civil-rights group involved in the effort.Juvenile judges were among the first to express alarm over the jump in the number of students appearing in court on misdemeanors, an increase they said is tied to the proliferation of school police officers.