Zero tolerance and bullying have become topics of debate across schools and among teachers and district administrators (see article excerpt below). Although some districts have used the zero tolerance policy to quell the anxiety of angry parents, many school district officials have found that removing bullies from one school creates a problem for students and parents at a new school. Who wants to be the recipient of a child that has been expelled from a school for bullying?
Students have the right to learn in a safe environment. The zero tolerance policy makes two assumptions. Assumption number one: removing a bully from a school may help to create a safer environment for the students at that school. Assumption number two: placing an expelled student in a new school environment will change the student’s behavior. Zero tolerance functions under the premise that expulsion is a motivating factor for changing student behavior. Although changing a student’s environment may lead to change in behavior, creating long-term change requires a new set of strategies designed to help a child learn new ways of interacting with peers in a positive way. Schools with staff members, who have committed themselves to creating a culture that values kindness and respect over bullying, have the greatest chance of creating long-term change in student behavior. Students like those featured in the Sprigeo Heroes Project have the support of their teachers and administrators as they take steps toward creating a positive school culture.
When we heard about Jamey Rodemeyer and other youth who had taken their own lives after years of being bullied for their sexual orientation and gender identity, we got angry. Maybe angrier than we had ever been. It would have been easy to want to punish and get revenge on all students who bully others. But it would have been wrong.
Yet, that’s exactly what’s happening across the country. According to Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right: Why Zero Tolerance is Not the Solution to Bullying, by Advancement Project, the Alliance for Educational Justice, and Gay-Straight Alliance Network, there’s a national trend to respond to bullying by calling in the police or using other harsh discipline that excludes students from school. For example, fifteen states have passed laws that make bullying a crime. In a lot of school districts, law enforcement gets involved in even the most minor incidents of bullying.