A healthy dose of sense is missing from school discipline as demonstrated by the 12-year-old in New York handcuffed and taken to a police station for doodling on her desk. The girl wrote “Lex was here 2/1/10″ on her desk Monday. Education department spokesman David Cantor said the incident shouldn’t have happened, and that common sense should prevail. (Read story here.)
A Georgia state senator is saying the same thing about overreactions in Georgia schools. Here is a good op-ed on this issue by Sen. Emanuel Jones. (This will run in the print AJC on the Monday education page.)
By Emanuel Jones
There is a crisis in our schools, a crisis of common sense. What else do you call it when a well-behaved, 14-year-old boy is treated like a criminal for voluntarily turning in a pocket knife to his principal?
Zero tolerance policies often entrap good kids into a life of crime. I have introduced a legislative package to limit the abuse of zero tolerance policies and impose common sense,
The 14-year-old gets good grades, participates in sports and after-school activities. Yet, under the zero tolerance policy enforced by his Morgan County school, Eli Mohone was arrested and spent the night in a youth detention center before receiving a hearing.
Under Senate Bill 299, judges will be required to hold a hearing before a student can be taken into custody.
Zero tolerance has contributed to rising suspension and expulsion rates. The number of children suspended rose from 1.7 million in 1974 to 3.1 million in 2000. Many of the kids expelled for committing a minor infraction have had no previous history of misconduct.
Findings also indicate a racial disparity in who is expelled. In 2000, African-American students represented only 17 percent of public school enrollment nationwide, but accounted for 34 percent of suspensions.
Once expelled or suspended, these kids must enroll in an alternative school, many of which lack the educational resources and recreational activities of their regular school. Surrounded by kids who have committed dangerous crimes, they fall behind in their work. An environment that creates such a barrier to good education can push a child into committing more infractions, repeatedly landing them in jail and clogging an already strained legal system. Schools should be a place to learn, not a pipeline to prison.
I am also submitting companion legislation that requires school districts to keep and provide the Department of Education with a record of kids disciplined under zero tolerance. Existing law does not make the distinction of how many kids are suspended using this section of the law. It’s impossible to know now how many students are being pushed into alternative education or into the juvenile justice system due to excessive use of zero tolerance policies.
We need this data to answer pressing questions and bring transparency to the process. This legislation is in no way intended to weaken discipline in schools, but inject some common sense into the process so that the appropriate degree and type of discipline may be applied to students for their overall benefit.
Developing effective disciplinary policies will require the collaboration of all stakeholders. Throughout the process of drafting this legislation, I have vetted the bills with education associations, judges and parents.
Along with teacher groups, I have the support of the Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice; the Georgia School Superintendents Association; Steven Teske, immediate past president of the Georgia Council of Juvenile Court Judges, and the Georgia State Conference NAACP. I look forward to working all stakeholders throughout the legislative process to perfect these bills.
We can’t continue to allow schools to prioritize punishment over education. Such a barrier to learning is a disservice to our children. This legislation will encourage more discretion at the school level to bring some common sense back to our children’s education.
State Sen. Emanuel Jones represents the 10th Senate District, which includes portions of DeKalb and Henry counties.