The following is a post I made at Megchan's Digimon Messageboard. I thought I'd put it here, too, so that it'd still be around later.
I'm against zero tolerance policies.
I've been one of the "fringe" students all my life. There was a time when my best friend would not admit to knowing me in school, because he didn't want to be ostrascized as well. Every day, we'd play together after school, but during school hours he wouldn't acknowledge that I existed for fear of being teased. I had about 2 people who would play with me at recess. The teacher mocked in me in class, and told me that she was looking forward to my birthday so she could spank me. This was 2nd grade, in my neighborhood public school, in a predominantly white upper middle class neighborhood.
I bounced around different schools a lot after that, going to 3 different elementary schools and 3 different middle schools, without moving once. My family kept switching schools for me, trying to find one that worked. I had a lot of anger. I probably got sent to the principal-or-equivalent's office every year of my elementary and middle school career, often for screaming and throwing things. This is just so you know where I'm coming from.
I finally found a school where I fit in, an "Alternative Magnet" public school within our school district. I started going there in 8th grade. I graduated at the end of 11th grade, because I already had enough credits.
This school had a wide variety of kids going there. It was kindergarten through 12th grade, all in one building. There were about 500 students all together. Everyone had to apply to get in, and kids came from all over the city. It was an entire school of misfits. We had almost no violence whatsoever. I know, because I was the student on the school Safety Committee (otherwise made up of teachers, an administrator and Concerned Parents) and it simply wasn't an issue that took up our time. We spent a lot of time dealing with issues like homeless people in the park bordering the school, but not once did we ever hear of a major incident involving violence among our students. I was also on several other committees, including the PTSA (like the PTA, but we threw an "S" in there for "Student") and student government, so I'm fairly sure that I was aware of what was going on.
When I started going there, the school had a long history of pretty much ignoring a lot of the more oppressive district policies, including the ones about weapons on school grounds. Many kids had pocket knives or leathermans. This was widely known, and sometimes the teachers would borrow one if they needed pliers or something. So now we're looking at a school of "armed" misfits with no tendency to have violence problems. And when I say misfits, I don't just mean me. One of my best friends was a guy with wild hair who wore a cape, a huge fanny pack, and biker boots to school every day. He also tended to wear electrical tape on his fingers. Did I mention we played Dungeons and Dragons? (Also, we'd sneak into the social studies room at lunch and play Carmageddon on the computer) Anyway, he carried knives to school. There was a sale on kitchen knives at the local thrift store, and for a while pretty much everyone I knew had at least 2 or 3 knives on them. One guy used to carry around this cool looking meat tenderizer. No violence came of all this. 5 or 6 of the nutty, violent-computer-game-playing, role-playing, cape-wearing, muttering-strange-things-under-their-bre
My last year there, we got a new principal and vice principal. The whole place changed. The vice principal was *terrified* of us. We were weird. We dressed funny. We had Upsetting Hobbies. Etc. She panicked. She started enforcing the long-ignored weapons policy, and making up new rules out of thin air. (She suspended me for a week for "threatening another student." No one in the room when I supposedly did this, including several staff members, thought that it was a threat. Well, unless you count when I said I'd do anything I could as a member of student government to stop her. I don't think that counts. The superintendent finally overturned it, after a lot of paperwork and phone calls.) The only affect I really noticed this having was that everyone now felt alienated from the administration and less like a valuable part of the school. Oh, and they started hiding their knives.
In conclusion, I think all zero tolerance policies do is ruin innocent kids' lives by suspending them for things that aren't worth suspending them over, alienate kids by clamping down on them even more, and lull administrators into thinking they're doing something useful. Instead, work to make the misfits feel less alienated. Kids who like their school and have friendly relationships with students and staff aren't likely to start killing them. It can be done. Furthermore, I'd like to add that my school was funded the same as any other school in the district, with the same amount of money per-student. Therefore, it can be done at a reasonable price. It takes smaller schools and staff that like and trust kids. It takes staff that foster a sense of community and belonging with all students, not just the successful conformists. I went to a school where a computer/roleplaying geek(me) could take 2 goths on a make-up field trip of a Flowering Tree Walk, and they'd be respectful and actually do it. I went to a school where people who recognized someone else from their school on the street would stop and say hi, even if they weren't friends. I went to a school where I wasn't afraid of my classmates. Some of these kids had arrest records, and some were just out of some troubled kids program or other, and I didn't have to be afraid of them, because we went to the same school, and that meant something to us. It meant that we were part of a family, and we had to be kind to each other. We didn't have to be friends, and there were some kids I wasn't fond of, but we were members of the school first. This, in a public school full of misfits.
We don't need a zero-tolerance policy on weapons. We need a full-tolerance policy on individuality.