We all want safe and welcoming school environments where students can learn and teachers can teach. But two recent disturbing examples of extreme reactions to student conduct have brought the negative effects of such responses into sharp relief. That is why many of us have called for re-evaluating the zero-tolerance policies for student misbehavior adopted throughout the nation over the last two decades. These policies were promoted by people, including me, who hoped they would create safe learning environments for students by freeing them from disruptions by misbehaving peers.
Our children are growing up in a global world. If we are truly going to prepare them to succeed in the 21st century, we must give them the tools to understand and value that global world. Learning about the cultures and histories that define all of us is an important component of our ultimate goal to reclaim the promise of public education for all.
If there’s one thing our fractured society can agree on, it’s that every school should be safe and welcoming for students and staff. The recent incident in South Carolina comes at a time of reckoning for and reconsideration of discipline policies in American schools. Using research, experience and common sense, we can move toward ways to create safe and welcoming school environments.
On Oct. 2, I had the honor to speak at the AFT's Civil, Human and Women's Rights Conference in New Orleans. This is what I told the 650 people gathered there, and what I will keep saying as I travel the country.