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Opinion: Minnesota Lawmaker Behind Zero-Tolerance Bill Misunderstands How Education Works

Opinion: Minnesota Lawmaker Behind Zero-Tolerance Bill Misunderstands How Education Works

It’s a scary thing when legislators don’t seem to understand how education works, and the fear is real after a Minnesota lawmaker introduced new legislation earlier this month that requires any student who assaults a teacher be immediately expelled.

While any educator or education advocate can reasonably agree that assaulting a teacher should result in serious consequence, it’s also well-accepted in modern-day education that simply expelling students and keeping them absent from learning is detrimental to any chance of helping the troubled students get back on track.

Bills such as SF 2323 do little more than add-on to the school-to-prison-pipeline, something that many education advocates are desperately trying to tear down.

State senator Dave Brown, the legislation’s creator, says the bill is a necessary step to set a standard for punishing violent students.

"Once it reaches this level of where a teacher has been physically assaulted, we need to set a standard for that, and that's what my bill does," Brown said, according to

Brown also wants to ensure that the teacher has a say in whether or not the student can come back into his or her classroom.

"'Imagine if you're a teacher in a public school and you're assaulted, I mean physically violently assaulted by a student, and that student's going to be coming back, I think every teacher should have that right to determine, whether they want that student back in their classroom or not,'" Brown said, according to KSTP.

Brown’s intentions might be in the right place, but even teachers are skeptical that such legislation is in the best interest of both the students and teachers involved.

A former substitute teacher echoed many teachers’ thoughts when she spoke to ThinkProgress:

"“School is really the place they need to be to get an education and have a good future, and where they should be able to get real, true counseling...I believe that kids who hit were probably hit themselves. There are some really difficult lives that kids are leading, and I just think that just kicking him out, it could ruin his future.”

Certainly, the zero-tolerance legislation is a step backwards from the restorative disciplinary approach that many K-12 schools are now adopting (see: Four Innovative Schools That Are Implementing Restorative Justice) as recommended by the U.S. Department of Education in early 2014. 

Good intention or not, Brown's legislation represents a disconnect between legislator and educator- a careless effort put forward without the bigger picture in mind. 

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor



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