Alternatives to zero tolerance school policies

Marian Wright Edelman
Children's Defense Fund President and founder Marian Wright Edelman addresses zero tolerance school discipline policies and their effect on student dropouts during a news conference in Jackson, Miss., Friday, Feb. 8, 2013. Edelman and others discussed some alternatives to the strict punishment that sometimes involves the courts and jail time.

In January, the Obama administration released new guidelines encouraging schools to move away from zero tolerance policies.

The guidelines recognize the high cost of zero tolerance policies when they result in inequitable application and become part of the school to prison pipeline.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

[Education Secretary Arne] Duncan cited statistics showing both wide use of suspensions and expulsions and inequity in how such punishments are meted out. African-American students without disabilities are over three times more likely than their white peers to receive suspensions or expulsions, for instance. And special-education students, who make up 12 percent of the student population, make up 25 percent of the students receiving multiple out-of-school suspensions, 19 percent of students expelled, and 23 percent of students receiving a school-related arrest.

Maryland is taking a lead in reforming its policies. Its leaders revamped policies that will focus on rehabilitative approaches and aim to end racial disparities. While some praise Maryland's lead, others criticize the lack of funding, mirroring a larger discussion of what supports are necessary for success.

Restorative programs seek "to make both victims and offenders whole and productive again through mediation and amends-making," writes Jeff Deeney for The Atlantic. "Restorative practices in schools aim to prevent the spread of violence through non-punitive conflict resolution and peer support and to resolve problems that do occur peacefully through communication among victims, perpetrators and facilitators.

On The Daily Circuit, we discuss alternative discipline policies in schools and what programs are setting an example nationwide.