Why Zero Tolerance Policies Don’t Work

One of the lessons I remember from the principalship class I took was that zero tolerance policies simply don’t work because at some point, some nice kid breaks the policy for a well meaning reason and you end up with egg all over your face.  Here’s a perfect example: the student who was unable to attend homecoming because of an overdue book. Here’s the policy:

The school’s July newsletter did tell parents that “students must have a zero balance for all fees and fines to participate in some special extracurricular activities or privileges.”

Here’s how it played out:

Dominique’s mother went to the high school to complain. She says the principal, Tracy Perkins, was unwilling to work with her.

“She did not care one bit,” said Dominique’s Mom, Danielle Olmstead. “She asked me what grade she’s in, I said freshman; she said ‘Oh there’s always next year.'”

Dominique is in the accelerated reading program at the high school. Two or three weeks ago she checked out a murder mystery that was overdue when she went to buy the ticket.

She offered to bring the book back that day but the school wouldn’t budge.

“She’s not being punished because she got into a fight or anything like that,” said Olmstead. “She’s getting punished because she had an overdue library book for reading. It’s ridiculous.”

Maybe what’s worse than a zero tolerance policy is continuing to enforce it even when you realize how ridiculous it is.

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