Do 'Zero Tolerance' School Discipline Policies Go Too Far?

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In New Orleans, the suspensions of the Sojourner Truth singing girls were eventually overturned. Community activists rallied around the suspended students, printing T-shirts reading "Save Sojourner's 10." The girls appealed their suspensions with the help of a local collaboration between area law students and the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana.

For Janeisha, the ninth-grader in New Orleans, the tide also seems to be turning. In April, Janeisha's teachers at Reed High School, where she transferred in January, created a behavior plan for the teenager. The plan allows Janeisha more flexibility to visit the school counselor during the day and calls for a weekly check-in with her teachers on her behavior. "They are finally asking what they can do to improve her behavior, apart from suspending her all the time," says her aunt.

But Gwendolyn Lawson sometimes worries too much damage has already been done. The dozens of suspensions — and two forced school transfers that essentially amounted to expulsions — seem to have convinced Janeisha that some teachers and school administrators do not want her around. If the behavior plan fails and the suspensions resume, Lawson suspects her niece will eventually give up. "At some point, she won't be wanting to go back to school," Lawson says.

This story was produced by the Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet based at Teachers College, Columbia University.

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