How to deal with Zero Tolerance Policies.

I almost forgot I gave you a list of questions and I said I would address them.  The question of how to deal with Zero Tolerance was presented.

Here’s how I operate, it seems to be successful, you may consider trying it.  Okay, it’s not totally me, it’s the idea of PRIMARY, SECONDARY and TERTIARY Prevention – – – – which I mistakely referred to as Strategic Prevention Framework (sorry).  This post has the mistake, yet my examples explain it.

This report by the American Psychological Association is really good.  It mentions Restorative Justice as a Tertiary prevention tool.  I disagree and think RJ works as primary and secondary as well.  I can briefly explain this:

 1 Primary-all students,  2 Secondary-at-risk students, 3 Tertiary-students that harmed others.   

When you use RJ in your classroom to improve belonging and peace, you have less incidents of harm (helping 1,2 & 3).  When you deal with 3’s  restoratively, you are involving 1’s & 2’s.  Helping shape behavior of 1, 2, 3.

This approach provides all students – social skills, emotional skills and promotes conflict resolution that is empowering and inclusive.

So how do deal with Zero Tolerance, you will also need a 1,2,3 approach.  1 – broad public opinion.  2 – direct practitioners and 3- specific interventions.

1.) educate yourself on the realities of Zero Tolerance. Know how to talk about it.  When I saw a headline in our local paper “Zero Tolerance for . . .” obviously the praise for a new policy in our elementary school, was delivered by a person uneducated about the fact that there is ZERO evidence of Zero Tolerance working.   Broad public awareness and education is needed.

2.) Target practitioners – even people directly involved in education are not aware of the growing trends.  You have to deal with practioners carefully, respectfully and listen to discover where they are at.  This is a real shift.  I’ve had people attend trainings I do and really need wrestle with letting this go.  If you are practioner – be specific about how School-based Restorative Justice is an appropriate response.

3.) Use Restorative practices – even for those youth that have or are caught in Zero Tolerance net.  I believe the Denver Public Schools – put RJ in the process.  Chicago Public Schools removed the language completely.  (I was standing at an airport shuttle with a dear friend, strong RJ advocate when she got the phone call this action was official!)  Get in there – and have specific conversations about how to involve restorative responses.

This last one is probably not as easy, but it really is needed. 

Just like we turn bully behavior around – by creating a “new normal”.  We need to turn Zero Tolerance around – by creating a “new normal”.