The Fair Way to Punish Bad Kids

Cynthia Dermody

lawyer leaving the courtoomMy oldest child is in first grade, so I'm new at this, but I think I understand pretty well the term zero tolerance. It means that schools take guns and weapons super seriously. No second chances. You bring one, you're out. Seems fair enough.

I didn't realize that zero tolerance was the result of a 1994 law in which public schools accepted money from the federal government in exchange for automatically expelling all students who brought guns on the property.

As we know, schools have taken things to the extreme. Kids who are involved in non-gun offenses that were once considered normal childhood behavior or simply the result of bad judgement are wrongly getting suspended, expelled and even arrested in the name of the policy.

Remember the 6 year old suspended for bringing the Boy Scout fork to school?

Crazy things like this happen all the time. Which is why all eyes are on a better system that's currently being used in a school district in Georgia ...

In Clayton County, Georgia, the courts were overwhelmed with juvenile cases involving disruptive conduct or fistfights, according to the New York Times. So the schools started using a new system:

First offense: warning.

Second offense: students and parents attend a mediation session or conflict workshop.

Third offense: court complaint.

The number of court cases have been cut in half, and the rate of dropping out (what happens to a lot of kids after long suspensions or expulsions) is less, too.

Do you think this approach is a good add-on to zero tolerance? Has your child ever gotten in serious trouble for something that you considered an honest mistake or normal kid behavior?

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