On Friday May 16th OSA students & community allies rallied to urge our legislators to pass SB167 & HB443 and remove failing zero tolerance policies in Ohio. These ineffective and discriminatory policies lead to high dropout rates, lower academic achievement and the creation of a pathway to prison for kids.
Representatives from the Ohio Education Association and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity highlighted how Zero Tolerance policies were intended to keep our schools safe from drugs and violence, but across the country, students are being suspended, expelled, or even arrested for increasingly minor infractions like being late or violating a dress code. Students of color are punished more often and more severely than whites for the same offenses. Low-income students, students with disabilities and LGBTQ students are disproportionately affected. Students who should be sent to the guidance counselor to find out what’s really wrong end up at the police station.
Tristina Allen shared her story of being in a foster home when she was pushed out of her school for slapping a boy who had been intimidating her, “This was my first time getting in trouble ever and I had good grades, so I was sure that I would be okay. Because of the zero tolerance policies, the principal explained that my behavior would result in suspension. That day I was taken out of the school in hand cuffs, put into the back of a police car, and sent to the juvenile jail. I felt I had become the criminal that I was bound to be. My sister and I ended up having to leave our foster home.”
We need more common sense discipline in Ohio. More than half of suspensions issued in Ohio for the 2012-2013 school year were for “disobedient” or “disruptive” behavior. Successes with non-punitive or alternative discipline strategies from school districts in other states show that we can boost school attendance, raise academic achievement, and improve graduation rates while reducing expulsions, out-of-school suspensions and school-based arrests.
The rally marched on the Ohio Statehouse and visited the office of the Chair of the Education Committee to send this message: All kids make mistakes. It’s part of growing up. Smart discipline helps students learn how to correct their behavior and creates safer classrooms where both teachers and students thrive. Ohio should give students, parents and teachers the support they need to create safe, high quality schools that prepare all Ohio children for college or a career – not prison.