An investigative reporter looks at American public schools and finds that excessively harsh discipline policies are criminalizing student behavior and establishing a school-to-prison pipeline that unfairly targets minorities.
Bay Citizen online editor Fuentes writes that the zero-tolerance policy had its origins in the White House’s war on drugs in the 1980s and was given a boost in 1994 by the Gun Free Schools Act and in 2001 by the No Child Left Behind Act. The latter’s sanctions against schools that do not demonstrate achievement through standardized testing has led to charges that school authorities are suspending and expelling students who test poorly. The 1999 Columbine shootings heightened the public’s perception of the risks of violence inside schools, and many states and localities responded with high-tech security measures and surveillance systems. The author charges that technologies designed for military and prison uses, such as fingerprinting, have found their way into schools with little understanding of their need, effectiveness or impact on students. Fuentes also looks at the practice of student drug testing, the arguments of those in favor of testing as a deterrent and the questions being asked by those who question its value. She takes a dim view of those profiting from zero-tolerance policies: ex-cops who become school safety consultants, manufacturers of surveillance and drug-testing equipment and certain companies running alternative schools for students suspended from regular public schools for behavioral problems. There is a movement afoot, Fuentes writes in her final chapter, to oppose the trend toward heavy policing of schools, and she reports on the measures being taken in school districts in New Orleans, Denver, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York as they look for other ways of handling discipline and promoting positive behavior.
Examples of zero-tolerance policies taken to absurd levels are attention-grabbing, but the real story, spelled out here with clarity and a touch of anger, is a disturbing one that should concern members of school boards, principals, teachers and parents.