California Debates Relaxing ‘Zero Tolerance’ Rule

Assemblyman Manuel Perez has introduced Assembly Bill 2537 to reduce the number of suspensions handed out in Californian schools by removing some categories of automatic suspension. Currently students are automatically suspended for carrying firearms, explosives or knives, sexually assaulting someone or selling drugs. If AB 2537 becomes law then only the carrying of firearms or knives will still warrant an automatic suspension and disciplinary action for the other offenses would be left to the discretion of the school concerned.

The bill will also remove the requirement for school principals to report illegal activities to law enforcement authorities. Finally the bill will prohibit school boards from expelling students unless ‘other means of correction are not feasible or have repeatedly failed to bring about proper conduct.’

“Zero-tolerance policies were written over a decade ago with the best of intentions — to prevent school violence,” Perez said in a prepared statement. “However, the way the policy is written has resulted in an epidemic of suspensions and expulsions.”

The bill is being introduced in a bid to ‘tackle’ the large number of schoolchildren in California who receive a suspension during the school year. In the 2009-2010 year 7% of all children received at least one suspension. While the figure for Latino children was also 7%, 18% of black children earned at least one suspension. In Oakland the suspension figure for black children rose to 25%.

Other countries, in which any of the original automatic suspension offences are likely to get the student concerned expelled, may be somewhat surprised by California’s response and the measure could be viewed as a mere accounting trick to reduce unsightly figures at the expense of children’s safety.

“It is terrifying to think that a pupil could carry a knife to school and ever be allowed back into classes.”