Legislation seeks to roll back ‘zero tolerance’

Indiana legislators could be on their way to doing something important for the state’s students. Bills have been filed in the House and Senate that would pull back from the harsh school discipline policies that have been in place since the “zero tolerance” philosophy swept the nation in the 1990s.

The measures, Senate Bill 443 and House Bill 1640, were introduced by Republicans Dennis Kruse, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and Bob Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee. And they have bipartisan support; Democrat Greg Porter is second author of the House bill.

“These are very good bills, with three or four noteworthy provisions,” said Russell Skiba, education professor and director of the Equity Project at Indiana University. “It’s certainly encouraging that the leadership in both the House and Senate is behind this.”

The proposals result from recommendations developed last fall by the legislature’s interim study committee on education. The Children’s Law and Policy Initiative, the Indianapolis NAACP and other groups have been pushing for these sorts of changes.

Driving the bills is concern about overuse of suspension and expulsion, often for minor offenses. Research has found large disparities in how discipline is applied, with minority students punished more harshly than white students for the same offenses. Indiana has some of the worst disparities in the nation, according to federal data. Continue reading

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