“I had a client who was tasered in the chest so much his lung collapsed”: The Zero Tolerance Generation, Pt IV

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Previously: Part III

Part of the problem with zero tolerance is that terms like “weapons,” “drugs” and “disruption” can be defined arbitrarily.

Policies that were intended to deal with guns and crack ended up scooping up students guilty of having a kitchen knife or alka-seltzer. Instead of expelling the violent few as advocates had hoped, the policies ended up bludgeoning the different, the creative, or simply the poor.

Even so, advocates of zero tolerance believed they were winning, making schools a safer place. The AFT’s 1997 statement touted a major decrease in assaults and threats towards teachers since the implementation of such rules in Texas. It warned against moves by some legislators to allow for more leeway based on individual circumstances.

“Undoubtedly, giving administrators the freedom to relax the rules would make life easier for them: It’s no fun trying to tell angry parents why you can’t make an exception for their child.” Problems, they asserted, weren’t with the policy, they were with its insufficiently strict application, with the refusal to enforce the penalties across the board. In the statement, John Cole, the AFT President at the time, declared, “If you begin to make exceptions for honor students who are caught with marijuana, other students will point out, ‘You let him go; it is not fair to treat me differently.’”

What was important, to make zero tolerance succeed, was for its advocates to remain determined, “they must not retreat…”

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