The readers’ forum

Broward schools replacing zero tolerance with PROMISE

 

The Broward County school system finally understands that arresting our children for disciplinary issues is cruel and unusual punishment. After several years of holding the No. 1 spot in student arrests in Florida, the district finally got it and introduced a program designed to reduce the number of student arrests, suspensions and expulsions.

The PROMISE program, which is similar to the Miami-Dade’s Student Citation Program, will be that alternative to students being automatically arrested, suspended or expelled for behaviors that were primarily disciplinary offenses. It took years for school officials to respond to the concerns of parents, the NAACP and the Broward Public Defender’s office. Stopping this cruel injustice was long overdue. Unfortunately, for some it is too late; they are marked as criminals for life.

Society doesn’t look favorably on people with criminal records. What were school officials thinking when they implemented zero-tolerance programs and began arresting the very children they were supposed to educate and prepare for a life of civil and social responsibility?

It’s not surprising that their zero-tolerance policy targeted predominantly African-American children who were arrested at a higher rate than all other ethnic groups. In fact, it is the school’s equivalent of the infamous Stand Your Ground law.

Over the years we have watched in horror as a generation of children act out violently and unlawfully. Society has blamed this alarming trend on music videos, television violence, irresponsible parents and easy access to guns. The truth of the matter is that the school system’s zero-tolerance policy has contributed to the criminalization of our children more than any rapper, ball player or dope dealer. Our children are sent to school to learn, and, boy, did they learn from this injustice.

We must replace criminal records with case files if a behavior disorder exists. And, where there are deficiencies we must provide social services.

Arresting a child for misbehaving is significant to a child’s belief system and self-esteem. It prepares them for a life of a crime. Arresting students for throwing a spit ball is unacceptable.

Just saying no to disciplinary problems in schools has been as effective as the “just say no to drugs” effort, which had the effect of crowding our prisons. We must exercise tolerance when raising our children. Sadly, teachers, school officials and board members didn’t learn the lesson from that failed drug policy.

Queen Esther Brown, Miami Gardens

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