The History of Zero Tolerance in American Public Schooling

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Morris, ; M. Morris, , ; Watson, Lei and M. Race matters in schools. Hines-Datiri discussed the ways age-appropriate misbehaviors committed by students of color become criminalized by school personnel due to their lack of experience with diverse cultures. In the National Center for Education Statistics reported that more than half of the This cultural mismatch is further complicated for Black girls based on the intersection of race and gender Crenshaw, Watson in press detailed how Whiteness and femininity were codified in school discipline policies and served to disenfranchise Black girls as both their race and gender were considered incompatible with schooling.

The abovementioned finding is evident in school discipline data see NWLC, Hence, zero-tolerance school discipline polices operationalized by White teachers, with little to no experience with children of color, embody racialized and gendered norms that intentionally exclude Black girls from their respective school communities. Recently, two policy reports substantiated the disparate treatment of Black girls in the places that we call schools.

Department of Education and other information gathering institutions to take the necessary steps to refine statistical reporting on disciplinary matters while disaggregating achievement data along racial and gender lines. In an effort to address this disparity on January 8, , the U. Department of Justice and the U. Curran performed a document analysis wherein he compared zero-tolerance school discipline laws and policies to mandatory expulsion laws and policies across federal and state laws, district policies, and media portrayals. He explained that a nationwide reform of zero-tolerance school discipline polices was not an easy feat as zero-tolerance laws and policies were rare.

In contrast, laws and policies that mandated expulsion were common. In a page document, school districts were required to maintain records for all school-based discipline e. The New York Times reported that civil rights groups were pleased with the new federal guidelines offered in response to the disparate impact of zero-tolerance school discipline policies. Deborah J. Currently, school districts throughout the nation are attempting to respond to the federal mandate.

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The efforts of two districts are detailed in the following paragraphs. The revisions are explained below. New York City In and , NYCDOE produced two procedural documents, Safety with Dignity and Maintaining the Momentum, in an effort to decrease the use of zero-tolerance school discipline policies, improve student behavior, and promote safe learning environments. Los Angeles LAUSD began to rethink its approach to zero-tolerance school discipline policies in when it stopped issuing infractions for truancy Times Editorial Board, Additionally, in , instead of sending students to juvenile court for non-serious offenses e.

Restorative justice practices are varied and focus on repairing relationships rather than punishing offenders Sellman et. While restorative justice sounds palatable in theory, it emulates practices found in the carceral continuum Shedd, that consistently plagues communities of color. Lustick conducted a study of the restorative justice practices in two New York City high schools during the — academic year.

Each of the schools employed a dean an African American man and woman who was charged with carrying out the restorative justice process. Based on principal interviews Lustick discovered that the deans were purposefully selected to establish and maintain warm and nurturing relationships with students. This practice negates the underlying premise of restorative justice in schools. This is simply not feasible when teachers neither understand nor have sympathetic or enriching relationships with the students charged to their care. In W.

Du Bois explained that separate schools were needed for Black children: Just so far as they are necessary for the proper education of the Negro race. In many schools, this finding is not a reality. As noted, public schools are racist institutions and are among the first places Black children experience bias. Board of Education , many people of color believed Brown would provide them with access to equal educational opportunities Patterson, Recommendations In many ways, like the Brown decision, the zero-tolerance school discipline policies that grew out of the Gun Free Schools Act of have had un intended consequences for Black children.

Black boys and girls remain overrepresented in school discipline data despite federal, state, district, and school-based efforts to reduce the use of zero-tolerance school discipline policies. Until recently, research and policy efforts to address the disproportionate impact of zero-tolerance school discipline policies focused on race and gender, specifically on Black males.

Many states and school districts expanded the zero-tolerance approach required by the Gun- Free Schools Act of This broad-based approach to school discipline makes it hard to establish a uniform set of disciplinary policies and practices. Moreover, the broad- based approach used in zero-tolerance school discipline policies has had un intended consequences for Black girls.

There is a cultural mismatch between most teachers and Black girls.

Moving Beyond Zero Tolerance | ACLU of Washington

The teaching force is overwhelmingly White and White-gendered norms serve to disenfranchise Black girls as both their race and gender are considered incompatible with the school community. The disparate impact of zero-tolerance school discipline policies substantiates this claim. Black girls need the support of teachers of color, especially Black women, if schools are to become loving and caring communities centered on trust.

Despite the efforts of federal, state, and district-level educational agencies, school discipline policies are employed inconsistently and subjectively. In order to improve student behavior and to promote safe, caring school communities centered on trust, educational agencies must utilize uniform race and gender conscious frameworks in school discipline policies.


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Far too many teachers have little, if any, knowledge of Black culture and of the contributions of Black people, especially Black women, to society. As a remedy, school leaders should mandate that all teachers practice culturally responsive teaching. If teachers are to build relationships centered on care and trust with Black girls, they must acknowledge the rich cultures and experiences Black girls bring with them into the classroom. Conclusion Education reform efforts have largely focused on holding districts responsible for the use of zero-tolerance school discipline policies against students of color.

For one, zero-tolerance school discipline policies should be abolished. Last, culturally responsive teaching is a promising remedy to disrupt the un intended consequences of zero-tolerance school discipline policies and to bridge the cultural divide between White teachers and Black girls. In conclusion, it must be noted that federal mandates, state and district-level directives— including restorative justice initiatives—are unable to remedy racism.

If teachers and school leaders are sincere in their efforts to address the un intended consequences of zero-tolerance school discipline policies that hinder the educational outcomes of Black girls, they must first recognize that Black girls are whole and complete human beings. It is only then that they will be able to construct, with them, loving and caring school communities centered on trust. Terri N. A Harlem native, her research examines the practices of urban school leaders and the impact of school reform initiatives on children and communities of color.

Watson is currently engaged in a grant-funded longitudinal study of the leadership practices in a large predominately Latinx and Black high school. References Archer-Banks, D. Urban Education, 47, Ashley, J. Implementing restorative justice: A guide for schools. Associated Press. Los Angeles policy shift yields decline in school suspensions. Blake, J.

The History of "Zero Tolerance" in American Public Schooling

Unmasking the inequitable experiences of urban Black girls: Implications for urban educational stakeholders. Urban Review, 43, 90— Brown v. Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color.

Stanford Law Review, 43, Crenshaw, K, Ocen, P. Black girls matter: Pushed out, overpoliced, and underprotected. The law, policy, and portrayal of zero tolerance school discipline: Examining prevalence and characteristics across levels of governance and school districts.

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Educational Policy, Du Bois. Does the negro need separate schools? Journal of Negro Education, 4 3 , Epstein, R.

Center on Poverty and Inequality. Georgetown Law. Ford, D. Spring Valley high school officer suspended after violent classroom arrest. Guckenburg, S. Restorative justice in U. San Francisco: WestEd. Hines-Datiri, D. When police intervene: Race, gender, and discipline of Black male students at an urban high school. Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership,18 2 , Gender, race, and justifications for group exclusion: Urban Black students bussed to affluent suburban schools.

Sociology of Education, 86 3 , Kafka, J. The history of "zero tolerance" in American public schooling.