Zero-tolerance policies were supposed to make schools safer and make discipline fair. Under zero tolerance, students who broke certain school rules faced mandatory penalties, including suspension and referral to law enforcement. But in practice, the policies "didn't help us get to the safe and welcoming school environments that every parent wants for his or her child," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in an interview.
On this week's podcast, we're featuring our 2016 documentary, "Spare the Rod: Reforming School Discipline."The hour-long audio documentary tells the story of schools that are moving away from zero tolerance and trying to reduce the number of students they're suspending. The turnaround is a response to a growing body of research showing that zero-tolerance policies resulted in a disproportionate number of kids of color suspended, expelled, and referred to law enforcement. In some places, teachers have been frustrated by new discipline policies that they say don't allow them to suspend students in many cases, but don't offer them other options for dealing with disruptive students. Weingarten said changes in discipline policies need to be accompanied by training and support for teachers.
"We can't go from zero tolerance to zero discipline," she said.
Some school districts are finding some success in reducing racial gaps in discipline and maintaining order by taking different approaches to discipline, such as restorative justice.
There's a lot more to dive into. Listen to this week's podcast for the full story.