Zero Tolerance for Children | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Zero Tolerance for Children

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Cardin Madison, left, a peer mentor at Jim Hill High School, and Malkie Schwartz, Talk About Problems program creator, shared ideas for discipline alternatives at Saturday's Dismantling the Cradle to Prison Pipeline summit.

Nsombi Lambright, executive director of ACLU Mississippi, doesn't bother going to her son's school anymore for lunch. She tried it as a way to connect with him, offer support for the school and show other students that adults care. But something wasn't right.

"Students couldn't talk in the lunch room," she told about 300 people attending Saturday's Dismantling Cradle to Prison Pipeline summit in Jackson. She said she looked at the quiet children in the lunchroom, including her son and thought, "Why am I here?"

She called the atmosphere very oppressive. "Adults can make mistakes, but kids can't," she told the audience, who were mostly middle school and high school students. "You have to be perfect."

The focus of the summit was zero tolerance policies in schools that can criminalize children for minor offenses such as throwing spitballs or talking during lunch. Much of the message was for students to know their rights and to find solutions.

Lambright said schools crafted zero-tolerance policies to create drug-free and gun-free safe zones for students. The harsh discipline, however, has turned into a one-strike-you're-out sentence, she said.

"We have zero tolerance for zero tolerance," Portia Ballard Espy, chief administrative officer of the Children's Defense Fund Southern Regional Office. "A lot of teachers want a better climate in the classroom," she said. Zero tolerance might not help that, she suggested. "Is it really help or hurting? We don't want to blame anyone. We want to figure out where do we go from here."

"Many of the people I represent are children," Alison O. Kelly, assistant public defender for Hinds County, said at the summit. Zero-tolerance policies ignore what a child was thinking during a minor offense. Kelly called it un-American.

Kelly advised the students that if they were ever arrested to show respect and be polite, but then to assert their rights. "Read my lips," she said. "You say, 'I want a lawyer, I want my parents.'" If the authorities refuse or try to ignore the request, Kelly told them to repeat, "I want a lawyer."

Charles Perry, chairman of the PERICO Institute for Youth Development and Entrepreneurship, is researching 159 school districts in Mississippi. He is charting which children get which punishments. Overwhelming, black boys get punished more often than any other group for the same offenses.

"The paradigm of zero tolerance is oppression," Perry said. "It creates the air of a lock-down situation."

Students and parents need to know the school policies as well as the state law, Lambright said. The ACLU has found that schools use zero tolerance illegally in some cases. "They are not following their own rules," she said.

Adults in the audience asked the panel questions about impending legislation, parents' rights, and handcuffing and shackling children in schools.

"Shackling a child is a human-rights issue," Lambright said. "Sometimes principals rely on school-resource officers for discipline." School-resource officers are trained and uniformed police officers who carry guns.

During a lunch session, the summit presented one alternative to draconian school conduct codes. Malkie Schwartz, director of community engagement at Goldring-Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, started a program a couple of years ago at Blackburn Middle School called TAP: Talk About the Problems. TAP is a peer-to-peer mediation program. Students who get in trouble go before their peers to sort it out.

The Blackburn experiment was successful enough that it carried over to Jim Hill High School this year. Cardin Madison, 16, a freshman at Jim Hill, is one of 30 students in the program.

"When peers talk to peers, we don't include the authority," Madison said.

Schwartz said the program might be moving into other Jackson Public Schools soon.

Previous Comments

ID
165821
Comment

I don't have any children but I have worked with and mentored many and they are highly emotional young people, as adults we have to be there to guide them in the right direction. The current issue is the problem with the approach by administrators and teachers in communicating with middle and high school students, these kids want you to listen - they want to be heard.

Author
Duan C.
Date
2012-01-23T15:34:12-06:00
ID
165822
Comment

Your right Duan and I can say that I had the same experience when I went to lunch at my kids schools (when they were still in public schools a few years ago). What was great about the event is that listening to the kids you realize they know the issue much better than most people think and they have some great suggestions for solutions. :)

Author
Laurie Bertram Roberts
Date
2012-01-23T15:52:14-06:00
ID
165823
Comment

@ Laurie Thanks for the shout out. I'm a Generation X'er - who is the child of a Baby Boomer - where my up bringing was basically "do as I say, not as I do" - and the social issues were a little more defined and typecasted - where as with this generation its more gray areas with the social and economic issues. There are more kids who are in their mid to late teens, that have parents in their early to mid 40's (i.e. my sister and brother-in-law) who really do not spank or whoop their children. Plus these kids, in my opinion, grow up faster than we had to - due to having more access to information in a broader sense (being born into a society with mass information - such as internet and cell phones) They aren't smarter or dumber, its just whats important to them at a certain age, is very very different and we (as human beings) did not take the time to prepare for the after affects of kids having acces to that kind of information at such a young age? Basically, kids can find out pretty much anything they want, past a firewall and a buddy who's parents are never are at home! lol!!!!

Author
Duan C.
Date
2012-01-23T17:17:53-06:00
ID
165824
Comment

Government run schools have failed the students, parents and our communities. It's no wonder we are falling behind the rest of the world. And nothing will change as long as bureaucrats control the government school system. Criminalizing childish behavior does nothing but make kids into criminals and absolve the administration of having to actually deal with complicated issues and problems.

Author
WMartin
Date
2012-01-23T18:05:12-06:00
ID
165825
Comment

Government run schools have failed the students, parents and our communities. That's an absurd statement, WMartin. Simply abhorable. Many of us, myself included, were lifted out of poverty due to our public-school educations. (What was my alternative in Neshoba County? Rightttt...Leake Academy. Now THAT's an education.) Not to mention, how many private-run schools (including right here in our state) are offering abysmal educations. Not to mention the problems with many charter schools, especially those with corporate influence. I know a whole lot about the problem of "criminalizing childish behavior," and it has little to do with the fact that schools are "government-run." It actually has more to do with the people who want to shut them down and their methods, not to mention their unfunded mandates.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2012-01-23T18:10:32-06:00
ID
165828
Comment

WMartin-What has failed about public schooling is racism, classism and rampant inequality. (not valuing teaching hasn't helped) You can not treat large segments of the population as second class and then wonder why they seem to be permanently stuck in second. There are many factors that go into school success. The biggest reason our system is falling isn't that its ran by the government its HOW the government chooses to run education and how we value education and children. The bottom line is we don't. Make ourselves feel better by testing children more so we can say we have raised standards doesn't change that we as country don't care if children have safe housing, adequate healthcare, and food. It is hard to learn when you don't have those things. I could go on about this topic for pages and pages because it is so personal for me. Not only is it personal but I have also taken the time to study the issue. Even though I am glad I have the option to homeschool my children freely I believe in public education that is democratic, meaningful and truly leaves children ready for life. That is where we need to get as a nation. A note about charters- coming from Indiana where there have been charters for years I can say charters have not been a saving grace for students. I worked at one and yes it was a good school I liked it because it was a good example of a partnership between the school and parents they worked really hard to work with their parents not against them and to understand them not judge. The school demographic was 99% AA in a city that is maybe 10%. That's because this school ended up getting most of the students who had been pushed out of the public schools. The school had a higher than normal special ed percentage but it was also ran by an EMO which is the equivalent of an HMO for education. My children attended there and it was ok for all its challenges. Yes they where able to do innovative things, yes they didn't have to have unions (which led to high turnover which is bad) but if innovation is so good why not just free up public school to be innovative lawmakers have the freedom to change the laws to do that. They do want to they want to privatize education and funnel money into private schools, especially in this state. Can charters work for good yes are they necessary no.

Author
Laurie Bertram Roberts
Date
2012-01-24T10:45:43-06:00
ID
165829
Comment

"What has failed about public schooling is racism, classism and rampant inequality. (not valuing teaching hasn't helped) You can not treat large segments of the population as second class and then wonder why they seem to be permanently stuck in second." Great point Laurie

Author
Duan C.
Date
2012-01-24T11:22:16-06:00
ID
165831
Comment

Thx Duan C. so glad we are on the same side this time :)

Author
Laurie Bertram Roberts
Date
2012-01-24T13:33:04-06:00
ID
165835
Comment

The printed article did nothing more than blame the public school system for problem kids. Sorry, but I value the education for those that WANT to learn over those that don't!

Author
js1976
Date
2012-01-24T14:56:54-06:00
ID
165838
Comment

How do children learn to interact with each other beyond social media? They certainly don't get that chance in school. She's right/they can't talk in the lunchroom. I have noticed that alot of kids don't know how to hold a conversation with each other, and especially adults. Beyond school, what opportunities besides church will they have to learn how to be "sociable people". They are becoming "socially illiterate."

Author
833WMaple
Date
2012-01-25T09:10:18-06:00
ID
165854
Comment

js1976- first off the article did not blame the school system for problem kids it highlighted how simply things that would have once been considered normal child behavior are now being criminalized and punished. This pushes children into a system of being a problem. "I value the education for those that WANT to learn over those that don't" So I guess we should throw all of those children away who according to you don't WANT to learn. I agree there are some kids who don't want to engaging in learning the way its being presented currently. That's why we have to figure out ways to reach them. Children are born thirsting for knowledge they want to learn its not until we place them in environments that make learning boring and where they can't understand things (due to learning disabilities, learning styles, etc.) that they lose interest.

Author
Laurie Bertram Roberts
Date
2012-01-26T13:21:49-06:00
ID
165895
Comment

@Donna Ladd~ Abhorable? lol. Ok. It's funny that in your defense of the government schools you make the point that you had no choice in your school years. When that is exactly the problem we still have. Maybe there has been a new idea since the middle of the last century? @Laurie Bertram Roberts The biggest reason our system is falling isn't that its ran by the government its HOW the government chooses to run education and how we value education and children. Yep, they choose to run it like the government runs things. Badly, with lots of bureaucracy, turning people into numbers and coming up with stuff like Zero Tolerance policies because it's political. SO why defend the status quo? Why stand in the way of school choice options that would make schools accountable to parents and students? That "we" you use above means the government. When you say ".. how WE value education and children." you mean how we all value education as manifest by how the government values it in governmental policy and I couldn't agree with you more actually. I spend less on my son's private school education annually than the government would if I sent him to public school and I believe we get a much better value. Our little family is far from wealthy and we sacrifice to send him to his school because we do value children and education. Vouchers are the answer, I believe but Charter schools are coming. I just hope they are worth the wait.

Author
WMartin
Date
2012-01-27T20:25:10-06:00
ID
165896
Comment

No, I made the point that non-public schools were a much worse choice -- as many would be with vouchers. It's remarkable that people think that private schools will automatically be better, especially considering all the evidence to the contrary right here in Mississippi. Some are good, but most are not. You don't understand, it seems, where zero tolerance policies came from. The root of them was in conservative think thinks -- they are yet another way to cripple the public schools. Otherwise, all your talk about "government schools" and "we" as government makes you sound like you sleep in a tin hat. Truly weird-o, dude.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2012-01-28T09:16:00-06:00
ID
165897
Comment

Donna- What evidence to the contrary other than your bias against private schools?

Author
BubbaT
Date
2012-01-28T22:46:38-06:00
ID
165898
Comment

If charters and school choice are the answer than poor children in Milwaukee WI. should be saved already, however they are not. Not every private school is a great school and guess what many people put their kids in private schools to get their kids away from public school kids so then what? Most charters schools are not great school because teaching children is not a business. The reason it can work for private schools is because for those who can't afford it they HAVE public education. You can't chart, graph and cost benefit analysis children with special needs, and behavioral problems. One of the reasons zero tolerance is so great for school districts is it gets rid of their problem students for them in a legal way. They can't legally tell a child with a learning disability that they are bringing down test scores and can't attend their schools anymore but they can push them out of their school. It is happening and it does happen and it happens because of the same people who are pushing for charters and vouchers policies.

Author
Laurie Bertram Roberts
Date
2012-01-28T22:49:28-06:00
ID
165900
Comment

WMartin brings up the value point: "I spend less on my son's private school education annually than the government would if I sent him to public school and I believe we get a much better value." The thing is, however, that he is paying for education twice. He is paying taxes to "the government" (whatever) as if his son were going to public school. I've wondered what would hapen to the state schools if everyone were to pull their kids out of private schools and rely solely on the public school system. I do know that the tuition charges of the small independent school that I attended is less than what I'm currently paying to daycare. So now, as my two are approaching school age, I am becoming curious of the options and advantages of each.

Author
Scott Dennis 785
Date
2012-01-29T12:02:28-06:00
ID
165901
Comment

Scott good question but we already know what happens because in areas of wealth or upper income where their neighborhoods are secluded their schools perform on par and better than private schools. Why? Because all the money, political will, and effort that parents and the community would've put into private school are placed into public schools. There is study after study after study that shows the impact of the business connections, influence and income of parents on the conditions of a school. It can make the difference in the average per pupil spending and make up for budget deficits. It is all connected.

Author
Laurie Bertram Roberts
Date
2012-01-29T13:06:36-06:00
ID
165902
Comment

Charter schools, like private schools, are not a panacea. Good, bad and stunningly mediocre examples exist in all categories, and all of them average out to "OK." America has not demonstrated its commitment to children or education through programs such as NCLB and zero tolerance. Instead we seem deluded into thinking that just because something is new or different it's magically better. I can't argue that public education is a not a mess; I won't even try. However, the sad truth is that the majority of Americans cannot afford private education, and vouchers and charter schools that don't provide real alternatives (ones that truly ARE actually better, not just new and different) won't solve that problem. I also can't argue that many educators have brilliant ideas on how to really fix the problem. They do. One such is early childhood education that takes advantage of very young children's ability to soak in learning like little sponges. Mississippi is only one of about 10 states without state-supported preschools. Educators have been talking for decades about how this hurts our children, yet Mississippi has chosen to ignore their warnings. If we're truly committed to real, lasting improvements in education, we must tackle the underlying systemic issues (lack of preschools, lack of students' and teachers social skills, low teacher pay that is a disincentive for people entering the work force, school quality dictated by a communities' ability to pay, exorbitant and ever-rising college tuition, etc., etc., etc.) instead of continually using short-sighted "solutions" and band aids. NCLB and other test-oriented solutions, along with hard-line punitive zero-tolerance tactics, only exacerbate the problem by disenfranchising those least likely or able to conform. Unfortunately, those non-conformers may also include some of the best and brightest who, without some other intervention, will simply fall through the cracks to fill our prisons a decade later.

Author
Ronni_Mott
Date
2012-01-29T17:41:00-06:00
ID
165904
Comment

@Laurie Bertram Roberts~ Saved? No. Ronni Mott makes the valid point there is no panacea. However, there is this. An excerpt from "The Effect of Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program on Student Achievement in Milwaukee Public Schools" "... we find that students in Milwaukee fare better academically when they have more free private options through the voucher program. It appears that Milwaukee public schools are more attentive to the academic needs of students when those students have more opportunities to leave those schools." http://www.uaedreform.org/SCDP/Milwaukee_Eval/Report_11.pdf @Scott Dennis~ You are right. I am paying twice, which is why a voucher system would be awesome for my family. Also, think about this. How many more people, like me, would be more likely to support higher taxes for public funding of education if their kids could actually benefit directly from it through a voucher system? As to your question, try thinking about it from the opposite viewpoint. Instead of taking away choices, wonder for a moment what would happen if you could use that portion of funds that the state spends annually for your children's education at the school of your choice. Imagine how many schools would pop up to fill the needs of special needs students. Where different ideas could be tried and some would succeed and some would not. And there would be freedom to move your kids from a failing school without having to face jail time. @Ronni Mott~ I agree with your points that schools qualities range whether public or private from school to school and with earlier points made about how kids are all different and what works for some doesn't work for others. I really can't think of more fundamental arguments for not locking kids into schools that either are failing or can't/ won't meet their individual needs.

Author
WMartin
Date
2012-01-29T20:28:50-06:00

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