Should Zero Tolerance Apply to Six Year Olds?


Nearly six years after the Columbine massacre prompted a zero-tolerance approach to student misbehavior, three episodes in Florida are raising questions about that response, says the Christian Science Monitor. Police handcuffed and removed children as young as 6. “Tough criminal sanctions are absurd at that age,” says Bob Schwartz of the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center. “Florida is not alone. There are still many places in the country where adults are completely losing their bearings.” One Florida case occurred in Melbourne, where officers sought charges against a 6-year-old boy who hit a teacher and an officer.

Sue Mosley, chair of the county school board, backs the schools’ decisions to call for police assistance. “We have had a number of situations in our schools over the last year, and we will call law enforcement every time to be on the safe side,” she says. Schwartz responds: “You can’t deter 6-year-olds through criminal sanctions; life doesn’t work that way.” Russ Skiba, director of the Indiana University Institute for Child Study, says zero tolerance amounts to “policy by anecdote”: “There’s nothing to show it improves student behavior, other than somebody saying, ‘Well, it works in our school.’ ”


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