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, reports the Washington Post. Rethinking has come in North Carolina and Denver, in Baltimore, and Los Angeles — part of a phenomenon driven by high suspension rates, community pressure, legal action, and research findings.
Zero-tolerance ideas became part of federal education law under the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994, which mandates that those who bring firearms to school be expelled. Many states and school systems jumped in over the years, adopting automatic punishments for drug possession and behavioral offenses. It was a time of abiding concern about school safety, intensified by 1999 Columbine High School mass shooting in Colorado. It was a time of tough attitudes toward criminal sentencing, years when three-strikes laws were popular and political leaders had declared a war on drugs. Now, “it's become evident that simply suspending students and putting them on the street comes back and bites you,” said Bob Wise, a former governor of West Virginia and president of the Alliance for Excellent Education.