MONDAY, Feb. 25 (HealthDay News) -- Suspending or expelling a
child from school should be a rare last resort and not a routine
punishment for bullying, drug use or other infractions, according
to a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics
The AAP, a leading group of pediatricians, said school
"zero-tolerance" policies toward kids' behavior problems do no
If the parents are at work when a child is out of school, more
inappropriate behavior often occurs, the authors said in the
statement, which was published online Feb. 25 in the journal
Pediatrics. Students who are suspended or expelled are more
likely to never get a high school diploma, end up in the juvenile
justice system or eventually land a low-paying job or no job at
"There's a tremendous price to pay not just for the kid involved, but for society," said Dr. Jeffrey Lamont, a pediatrician at Marshfield Clinic in Weston, Wis., who wrote the new AAP statement.
But if zero-tolerance policies keep troublemakers out of school,
don't the "good" kids benefit? That's not what the research shows,
What's more, Lamont said, the policies are not only targeting
kids who are a danger to their peers but also students with a wide
range of behavior issues.
U.S. schools started turning to the zero-tolerance approach in
the 1980s, as a way to curb drug use and violence. The idea got a
boost in the 1990s with the passage of the Gun-Free School Zone
Act, which required schools to expel students caught with firearms
on school grounds.
"The problem was that schools adopted zero-tolerance policies that extended to lesser offenses, like disrespecting a teacher," Lamont said.
In 2006, a task force set up by the American Psychological
Association found after a decade of research that there was no
evidence that zero-tolerance policies had made schools any safer or
helped kids' school performances. But there was evidence, the task
force found, that the policies were disproportionately targeting
black and Hispanic kids.
"You have to ask yourself why that is," Lamont said.
The AAP had no estimate for how many U.S. school districts had
zero-tolerance policies. But they are "very common," said Katherine
Cowan, director of communications for the National Association of
Cowan said the new AAP policy is in line with her group's
thinking on the issue. "It's great to have pediatricians weighing
in on this now," she said, noting that pediatricians play a big
role in spotting kids' behavioral and health issues early on.
Cowan said there are "obvious, silly examples" of zero-tolerance
being too rigidly applied, such as suspending elementary school
kids because their parents packed a butter knife with their lunch.
Last month, a Pennsylvania kindergartener was suspended for
threatening classmates with her Hello Kitty "bubble gun."
Most often, however, suspensions and expulsions are doled out
when kids do misbehave. The issue, Lamont and Cowan said, is that
the punishment doesn't fit the crime.
"And we have alternatives that are proven to work," Cowan said.
One example the AAP points to is a program called Positive
Behavioral Interventions & Supports, already used in more than
16,000 U.S. schools. Many state education departments have
"technical assistance" centers that help schools implement the
The program's goal is to prevent behavior problems or keep them
from escalating. The first step is for schools to come up with
expectations for all students' behavior -- such as keeping your
hands to yourself when you're in the hallway or speaking up when
you see a student being bullied -- and making those expectations
The response to rule-breaking is also made clear; if it's minor,
a teacher might handle it with a simple reminder of the school's
expectations. If it's serious, parents might be called in or the
child might get counseling from a school psychologist or other
The other key is that kids are also recognized for good
behavior, Lamont said. "Put yourself in the kids' place," he said.
"Not many adults would stay with a job where all they hear is
criticism. Why do we expect something from children that we
wouldn't expect of adults?"
Lamont said there is evidence that the program does improve
behavior problems in schools. "From the federal government on down,
people support this," he said.
Cowan said that although many schools still have zero-tolerance
policies, a shift is taking place. "I think we are seeing a trend
of schools moving away from it," she said, "because the research is
Learn more about getting
Positive Behavioral Interventions
and Supportsinto schools.
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