Monday 14 November 2005

Zero-Tolerance Policy—Friend Or Foe?

This week the Ontario Human Rights Commission will release a landmark settlement decision with the Toronto District School Board to end the practice of zero tolerance used in school discipline. This settlement was in response to criticisms that the Ontario’s Safe Schools Act inappropriately favored harsher disciplines with black students than students of other ethnicity. While the decision does not imply bias or wrongdoing by the school board, it stands as a direct challenge to public schools in both Canada and US where such practice is widely implemented. Moreover, the policy of zero tolerance has long been regarded as the best strategy in curtailing unwanted behaviours, such as violence and drug use, in students. A suitable replacement may never be found or accepted by all stakeholders. On the contrary, this decision is a wake-up call to question whether such board disciplinary imperative is both morally and socially justified. The zero-tolerance approach ignores mitigating factors or inciting circumstances that may be the root triggers of misguided behaviours in students. It also violates the lawful principle of retribution valued by our society. Abandonment of such policy will force school officials to once again focus their attention on dealing with the prevention rather than the aftermaths of unwanted conducts. The goal of punishment in our schools should be to reform, not to reject.

By Philip Jong • At 03:35 PM • Under Column • Under World
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