Bethlehem Press

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Bailie discusses the problem with ‘zero tolerance in schools

Monday, December 14, 2015 by Carole GorneySpecial to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

The International Institute of Restorative Principles is noted for its efforts to end “zero tolerance” policies in schools; and is recognized for supporting the use of restorative principles as alternatives to those policies.

In a private interview after his inauguration, the new IIRP President John Bailie explained the institute’s opposition to zero tolerance in the American school system. “Zero tolerance was brought into the schools from the criminal justice system,” he said. “It is harsh, inflexible and has extremely punitive consequences for poor behavior in the schools.”

The assumption on which zero tolerance is based, according to Bailie, is that “once you get rid of a certain percentage of students, everything will be fine,” but after nearly two decades as a policy in the school systems, he said, zero tolerance “has been a complete failure.”

Bailie attributes this failure to the atmosphere of fear and distrust that he said zero tolerance creates. “What we’ve said is that students do best with high expectations with high support. They are more likely to succeed with strong relationships and connections. Once you have those [connections] you can be much more demanding than just from using fear.”

IIRP is currently partnering with organizations on the three largest randomized control studies to date on the effectiveness of restorative practices in schools. The studies are examining the effects restorative practices have on suspension rates, students’ involvement in the juvenile justice system, improvements in school environments, and students’ academic success.

Included in the studies are 22 Pittsburgh public schools, 16 Maine schools and 15 schools in Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Boston, Washington D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, San Antonio and Baton Rouge.

Partnering in the studies are the Rand Corporation, the National Institute of Child Health and Development, John Hopkins University, Atlantic Philanthropies and the U.S. Department of Justice.