How the California Endowment is Bringing Common Sense to the Zero Tolerance Policy

The Zero Tolerance policy that many of the nation's public schools boast about has its place, and when doled out judiciously, it works to an extent. According to the California Endowment — and many others — the heavily lauded policy does not have its place in all disciplinary situations, as it is generally applied. The Endowment also views the harsh implementation of this policy as being detrimental to the overall health of school children. The California Endowment's Health Happens in Schools is part of its 10-year, $1 billion Health Happens Here initiative. The initiative believes in a more holistic and positive approach to the health and well-being of California residents, including trying to bring a bit of common sense back to disciplinary measures taken by California public school officials.

In the 1990s, the zero-tolerance craze swept through public schools faster than a middle school girl's gossipy rumor—and that's fast. Years later, the one-strike-and-you're-out policy is coming under increasingly intense scrutiny in favor of more positive measures. The California Endowment is putting its money on this movement by creating a $1 million fund for discipline reform for public schools within the state.

Zero Tolerance tends to ignore any deeper reasons to a child's behavior and judges a child on his or her actions alone. The policy has a good foundation when it comes to violent and drug-related offenses, but exceptions need to be made for minor offenses. Of course, making exceptions to a "zero-tolerance" policy wouldn't make it zero tolerance, would it? Robert K. Ross, president and CEO of the endowment voices this need for change by stating that

The overuse of harsh school discipline is a problem we can solve, and our foundation is committed to supporting schools and community leaders in this important area that affects the future health and opportunities for California’s young people.

In California, an average of six children per minute are suspended or expelled for minor offenses such as tardiness and talking back to teachers or school officials. One of the Endowment's reasons behind the need for disciplinary reform is that automatically suspending and expelling students for non-violent, non-drug-related offenses ignores the underlying reason as to why the child is acting out in the first place. (See California Endowment: Los Angeles Grants)

Through its Health Happens in Schools program, the California Endowment is urging schools to examine the possibility that chronic tardiness or insubordination could perhaps be the result of a health or safety issue at home, such as physical or emotional abuse, and not a result of laziness or oversleeping. In other words, the Endowment believes on treating the child as a whole person and not acting as judge and executioner simply based on the fact that the kid has a sassy mouth.