Zero Tolerance Losing Its Appeal?

| Wed Jun. 1, 2011 10:20 PM EDT

The Washington Post reports that we're having a sudden outbreak of common sense:

Nearly two decades after a zero-tolerance culture took hold in American schools, a growing number of educators and elected leaders are scaling back discipline policies that led to lengthy suspensions and ousters for such mistakes as carrying toy guns or Advil.

....The shift is a quiet counterpoint to a long string of high-profile cases about severe punishments for childhood misjudgments. In recent months, a high school lacrosse player was suspended in Easton, Md., and led away in handcuffs for having a pocketknife in his gear bag that he said was for fixing lacrosse sticks. Earlier, a teenager in the Virginia community of Spotsylvania was expelled for blowing plastic pellets through a tube at classmates.

....In Delaware, for example, zero-tolerance cases were a repeated issue in the Christina School District, where a 6-year-old with a camping utensil that included a knife was suspended in 2009. Discipline procedures were revamped last year, giving administrators the discretion to consider a student’s intent and grade, as well as the risk of harm. Out-of-school suspensions in the state’s largest school system fell by one-third in a year.

How on earth did we ever stampede ourselves into adopting en masse a policy aimed at children that didn't consider age, intent, and risk of harm? It was like we were suffering from a bout of collective insanity. I understand the problems that teachers and principals have these days, both with legal liability and with parents who scream about discrimination whenever their little darlings are alleged to have misbehaved. But there's just no way that zero tolerance was ever the best answer to these problems. Hopefully we're all finally figuring that out.