‘Zero tolerance’ has that no-nonsense cachet that makes it a staple among the law-and-order crowd.
Its appeal is in its simplicity, and the belief that compromise means concession.
But there is a danger when it is administered too broadly – something that is particularly relevant in schools.
Last week a policy committee with the Chilliwack School District recommended the district’s drug and alcohol policy remain unchanged, arguing that students need the boundaries set out in its zero tolerance approach – automatic expulsion, with little hope of appeal.
The Chilliwack school board agreed.
All except trustee Barry Neufeld. “This policy is archaic, punitive, and not worthy of a modern education system,” said Neufeld in a sharply worded critique.
Trustee Neufeld expanded on his point in a letter to The Progress.
And it is worth a read. He argues that the district’s zero tolerance policy risks alienating the very people the school district purportedly hopes to help.
It is an arbitrary and reactionary approach that ignores more imaginative and consultative programs that move beyond simple punishment.
Restorative justice is not a new concept. It’s been around the community for years, and the approach has been implemented in schools throughout North America for even longer.
It begins with the belief that an inclusive and consultative approach can deal with the original offence, while creating an environment where repetition is unlikely.
To be clear, it does not reward harmful or hurtful behavior. It does not suggest that students should be without boundaries, or that drug use and alcohol consumption amongst school kids is okay.
The point is to employ the best practices available to ensure that kids who do cross that line are guided back and not abandoned to the consequences of their mistake.
We can solve the problem at its root so it doesn’t happen again, or kick it down the road and leave others to deal with it.
Problem solving is a hot topic in education. But words mean little if they are not backed up by action.