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Zero Tolerance for Zero Tolerance Policies

We were encouraged to read that a state task force in Colorado is looking to put an end to one-size-fits-all school discipline that flows from zero tolerance policies. While the examples provided in the story are clearly egregious, they point out how unlikely it is that zero tolerance policies could address the issues in any specific individual situation. Much research has documented that zero tolerance policies not only don’t make our schools safer, they actually make our schools less safe! But it’s not surprising that zero tolerance policies continue to rear their ugly heads when it comes to school discipline. When we are scared, we run for more of the familiar. In this case, that means more traditional, punitive discipline when ironically what’s needed to ensure everyone’s safety is something very different. We have a saying that goes like this:  the more serious or unsafe the behavior, the more important it is to solve the problem and teach the lagging skills leading to the behavior in the first place. And sadly punitive discipline does neither well. Fortunately, there are alternatives, such as our approach, that focus on solving the problem leading to the unsafe behavior and teaching the skills that are lacking so it doesn’t happen again under different circumstances. You might even call such approaches a “100% Response Policy.”

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