Words of a Generation’s Unheard Voice: Zero Tolerance Schools

Words of a Generation’s Unheard Voice: Zero Tolerance Schools

Morgan Jelinsky, Staff Writer

They say it all begins in the classroom but what begins isn’t quite what we think. Zero tolerance programs implemented in these schools pave the way for more suspensions, expulsions and juvenile delinquency, thus creating a toxic chain effect that has the potential to ruin lives. Keep in mind, 95 percent of out-of-school suspensions are for nonviolent, minor disruptions such as tardiness or disrespect (US Department of Education). Regardless, in many cases, this uphill chain effect has been connected to a future life in prison. The system isn’t meant for the children’s greater good,; it simply shuffles them along as if they aren’t valuable. I’m here to be the voice for the children who have been silenced by the oppression of the school to prison pipeline system.

Zero tolerance programs were adopted by schools in the hope to avoid violent behavior in the classroom. Originally intended for positive use, these programs have become resilient and insist on punishing students much harsher than deserved. This excessive use of power has been normalized and even praised, especially in low income areas. It doesn’t stop there. “While segregation laws have ended, many schools in inner-cities remain separated by race and not designed as areas of learning,” Jonathan Kohol emphasizes in his book, Savage Inequalities. Racial bias leads African American students to be suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students (Civil Rights Data Collection). Not only is this system preying on children, but it remains heavily prejudiced. On average, 5% of white students are suspended, compared to 16% of black students (U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights). The unjust statistics only proves the point that African American students suffer at an unequal rate compared to their white peers, seemingly over nothing more than the color of their skin.

When do expulsion and suspension become a problem? Other than the fact that the students are being ripped away from their right to education, these students face a greater chance to end up in prison. The head of public relations at the NBCDI states, “students with two or more suspensions, especially Black males, have a 60 percent higher chance of incarceration.” As previously stated, suspensions and expulsions are usually not due to a serious threat in a school environment, yet, suspensions have become ever so impactful. A study done by the The U.S. Department of Education reveals that a student who is suspended or expelled during preschool or elementary school is up to 10 times more likely to face jail time later in life. Thus, the burdening weight of suspensions and expulsion are carried throughout a lifetime.

The children’s environment only makes matters worse. Low-income schools tend to display a prison-like environment by funding ‘security’ over education. Adam Lee, scholar of Justice Studies at San Jose University, explains the dynamic of a low income schools as “the relationship between the school-to-prison pipeline and the prison-industrial complex….[It’s] a result of inner-city schools failure to provide a proper education to students. Law and normalization of surveillance are analyzed to argue that inner-city schools produce docile prisoners.” Education gets put on the backburner as these schools are overpopulated and underfunded. Last resort responses become a first option due to the fact that the school system isn’t built to handle its students with care. The negative reinforcement of suspension over learning is only preparing these children for the worst.

It is proven that the cycle of discipline enforced by these schools only encourages more negative behavior. The American Psychological Association states, “Rather than reducing the likelihood of disruption, however, school suspension in general appears to predict higher future rates of misbehavior and suspension among those students who are suspended.” So, inadvertently, the system becomes a cycle for negative behavior instead of reinforcing positive behavior. The negative punishments these children are receiving proves only another example of how these zero tolerance programs are a direct lead to incarceration. The only way this could be prevented would be by focusing on more time for student’s individual needs and acquiring more funding. “Keeping at-risk kids in class can be a tough order for educators under pressure to meet accountability measures, but classroom teachers are in a unique position to divert students from the school-to-prison pipeline,” says Jerri Katzerman, SPLC deputy legal director. It is up to the teachers, administrators, parents and even us, as bystanders, to take an stand for the future generation by doing away with harmful zero tolerance programs.

The School to Prison Pipeline is the toxic leak in the American educational system, fueled by racism and intolerance. School should be a safe environment for each student to learn without bias on school class or race. Instead of just pushing our children along the lines of the system, we should be intervening. These youths are the voices of tomorrow, so we should be their voices of today. We are failing are students for not correcting this issue and we are failing them by not speaking up. Be a voice for the voiceless, trapped behind the bars of oppression.