Due to several high-profile acts of school violence in the past several years, many schools have gone to a “zero tolerance” approach to school discipline.  In other words, they operate under the belief that pushing kids out rather than helping them is the best approach.  This is unfair to the vast majority of kids who would never commit violent acts, and it is an ineffective approach to school discipline.  

I am seeing a higher number of kids being suspended and even expelled for acts that previously would have been addressed in a far less aggressive manner.  For example, a student may post a relatively harmless threat on Facebook — the type of empty, meaningless threat that teenagers have been making for centuries — then face expulsion.  This accomplishes little except making a kid dislike school and feel unwelcome there.  

Schools would be much better advised to take a therapeutic and problem-solving approach to dealing with these issues instead of a zero tolerance approach.  If a kid has a few minor issues at school, he or she can be assisted by developing a decent relationship with the teachers, counselors or administrators in the building.  I’ve seen what positive relationships can do for a kid and how effective such relationships can be in assisting kids academically and emotionally.

Now, of course the behavior of some kids can at times get so bad that there is absolutely no choice but to expel that kid.  In cases of repeated school bullying, for example, expulsion may be the best option.  But expulsion needs to be the option of last resort, not first.  Before turning to expulsion, schools should try many other less punitive ways to deal with kids.