May 3 2013 12:00 AM

San Diego Unified is rethinking its zero-tolerance policy

The San Diego Unified School District is re-evaluating its zero-tolerance policy, under which students are automatically suspended or expelled for certain actions, like bringing a firearm, drugs or alcohol to school. District spokesperson Linda Zintz told CityBeat that families have raised concerns that the policy's too harsh and doesn't take into account things like a student's socio-economic background and whether it's a first-time offense.

Nationwide, most districts are scaling back on zero-tolerance policies, said Chief Student Services Officer Joe Fulcher at a San Diego Unified School District board meeting on April 23. The American Civil Liberties Union, American Psychological Association and American Bar Association have all advocated for abolishing or limiting zero-tolerance policies, he said.

"Some of the opponents are talking more about the students being unfairly punished," Fulcher said. "The disproportionate number of students of color who are affected, student immaturity or lack of development is not a consideration in some cases, kids make mistakes, and we can't treat seventh graders like we do 11th graders."

Zero-tolerance policies developed en masse after Congress enacted the Gun-Free Schools Act in 1994. Many districts expanded on the legislation, passing policies that covered acts of violence and defined what was considered a weapon, Fulcher said. There is no legal definition of zero-tolerance, he added.

The San Diego Police Department, meanwhile, has advocated for limiting out-of-school suspensions. Police Chief William Lansdowne said in an interview that the department has been working with school districts to encourage in-school, as opposed to out-of-school, suspensions. The overall goal is to keep kids out of the juvenile justice system, he said.

At a Commission on Gang Prevention and Intervention meeting on April 18, Lansdowne said that burglaries in particular were increasing across the city, partly due to out-of-school suspensions. 


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