Zero Tolerance and Meaningful Student Involvement

Zero tolerance is the practice in schools of showing absolutely no acceptance for certain behaviors. Teachers, principals and other school staff are largely responsible for enforcing school rules against firearms, other weapons, alcohol, drugs, violence, and tobacco. Other issues include clothing, like skirt lengths and sagging pants, as well as free speech topics and challenging student-adult relationships.

Enforcing zero-tolerance rules, particularly in low-income schools and with students of color disrupts education for everyone, especially those who are directly involved. Oftentimes, students who are likely to be affected by zero tolerance rules are those who aren’t involved in schools. This makes students who comply eligible to participate, and pushes those who don’t further to the fringes of schools, promoting the school-to-prison pipeline.

The school-to-prison pipeline is being challenged through student advocacy. In fall 2014, the Boston Public School Committee passed a historic code of conduct as a result of three years of advocacy work from students on the Boston Student Advisory Council, and others with the Boston Area Youth-Organizing Project and Boston Parents Organizing Project. Based on a framework of alternative discipline, the new code of conduct encourages schools to explore alternative options to suspension and expulsion, and allows students who have to leave school to work towards their diploma.

Using the avenue of Meaningful Student Involvement allowed students to influence systemic decision-making in that example. Students can also research zero tolerance in their schools, plan alternatives to zero tolerance in student/adult partnerships, and beyond that.

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