Faced with mounting evidence that get-tough policies in schools lead to arrest records, low academic achievement and high dropout rates that hurt minority students, cities and school districts are rethinking their approach to minor offenses, reports the New York Times. In Broward County, Fl., the nation’s sixth largest school district, two years ago, more students were arrested than in any other state district, most for misdemeanors like possessing marijuana or spraying graffiti. Schools around the U.S. have seen suspensions, expulsions and arrests for minor nonviolent offenses climb together with the number of police officers stationed at schools.
The policy, called zero tolerance, first grew out of the war on drugs in the 1990s and became more aggressive after school shootings like the one at Columbine High School in Colorado. Last month, Broward veered in a different direction, joining other large school districts, including Los Angeles, Baltimore, Chicago and Denver, in backing away from the get-tough approach. Rather than push children out of school, districts like Broward are choosing to keep lawbreaking students in school, away from trouble on the streets, and offering them counseling and other assistance aimed at changing behavior. These efforts are increasingly supported, sometimes even led, by state juvenile justice directors, judges and police officers.