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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Zero tolerance policies at schools fail to address real issues

No butter knives, no leaves and no clocks, according to zero tolerance policies enforced among many school districts across the country. These policies, which began as a way to crack down on drug use, weapon use and general violence, have morphed into a system that unnecessarily punishes innocent children for ridiculous reasons.

Recently, a high school freshman named Ahmed Mohamed was suspended and arrested for bringing a clock he had constructed to school after it was mistaken for a bomb by one of his teachers.

“While it’s possible Islamophobia played a role in the arrest of Ahmed Mohamed, other important factors were likely at play as well,” wrote Dr. Maha Nassar, an assistant professor of modern Middle Eastern history and Islamic studies at the UA, in an email.

“One is that ‘zero tolerance’ policies at schools in general have been taken to absurd levels in recent years.”

Even after the school and the authorities determined that the clock was of no threat to anyone, the suspension was not revoked. Even harsher at times than the judicial system, zero tolerance seems to mean guilty until proven innocent—but even after proven innocent, they’re still guilty.

Just last year, a 6th grader in Virginia received a one-year suspension after the school found a leaf in his backpack that resembled marijuana. Even after it was determined that it was simply a Japanese Maple Tree leaf, the suspension still held.

After six months, he was allowed to attend an alternative school with students who got into serious trouble in the past, but would have his backpack searched everyday for drugs. His parents decided to homeschool him instead, since their previously cheerful, gifted and talented student began suffering from panic attacks and depression.

How can schools possibly justify the punishment of innocent kids to such extreme lengths? Why is there no reciprocal protocol for rectifying a situation or using common sense to determine whether the child is actually a threat to the school?

The reasoning behind these allegations is that zero tolerance policies treat look-alikes as the real deal: toy gun equals real gun. The policy is to prevent kids from issuing threats or distributing drugs, even if they are fake. However, they clearly do not know how to handle situations in which there is no threat, real or fake.

A middle school student from Massachusetts was suspended two years ago for bringing a butter knife to school to cut her pear. Any reasonable person could see that she did not mean any harm and would have given her a warning or simply taken away the butter knife; however, since knives of any kind are not allowed on school grounds, the school suspended her, essentially ruining her school record.

In lieu of all the school shootings and violence that have taken place, schools have enacted stricter regulations, but they cast a net so wide that no student is safe from their rulings.

While it can potentially stop bullying, how easy would it be for a student to plant a leaf or a butter knife in another student’s backpack and then accuse them of carrying banned paraphernalia? The very rules designed to protect the students are punishing them, and the administrators have left their common sense locked up safely in a vault so far underground that it cannot be reached by the light of day.

Let’s dig up our logic and once again make schools places of rational thought.

Follow Apoorva Bhaskara on Twitter.

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