Miami Beach Education Committee Wants to Reinstate Zero-Tolerance Drug Policies

Over the past few years, Miami-Dade County Public Schools began phasing out hard-line discipline in favor of more effective policies. Thanks in part to the efforts of local advocacy groups, the district found alternatives to arrests, stopped issuing out-of-school suspensions, eased its zero-tolerance stance on drugs, and embraced a restorative justice approach.

But not everyone has been happy with the changes. Last week, 12 members of the Miami Beach Committee for Quality Education voted to start lobbying the district to bring back a zero-tolerance drug policy for the 2017-18 school year.

"The Committee for Quality Education requests that the Miami Beach mayor and commission... urge the Miami Beach police department and Miami-Dade County Public Schools police department to develop and vigorously enforce a zero-tolerance drug policy for Miami Beach Senior High School and feeder schools," its resolution states.

Most research indicates those "tough" policies simply don't work. A 2015 study showed that students who attended schools with zero-tolerance drug mandates were actually 60 percent more likely to use marijuana. Students who discussed their drug use with a teacher or counselor, on the other hand, were half as likely to smoke weed in the future.

The history of zero-tolerance policies dates back to the late '80s as school districts responded to the War on Drugs. It didn't take long for the idea to catch on: By the mid-'90s, the policies were a mainstay in classrooms across the nation.

But as years went by, researchers and educators became critical of the way the policies fed the school-to-prison pipeline. Federal data showed zero-tolerance policies disproportionately affected minority students, who made up 70 percent of the kids who were arrested or referred to court. Organizations like the American Psychological Association released studies that raised questions about the effectiveness of zero tolerance, finding the mandates made schools no safer.

Florida lawmakers relaxed the state's zero-tolerance statutes in 2009, giving school districts more discretion as to how they dealt with troublemakers. Eventually, both Miami-Dade and Broward Counties backed off their local zero-tolerance policies, saying students shouldn't be saddled with criminal records or disciplinary actions that would permanently jeopardize their futures.

“A knee-jerk reaction for minor offenses, suspending and expelling students, this is not the business we should be in,” Broward County Superintendent Robert W. Runcie told the New York Times in 2013.

As of now, the Miami Beach committee's recommendation is technically just a piece of paper. It would take action from the school district for a new zero-tolerance drug policy to be implemented.

New Times was unable to reach the former second-grade teacher who made the motion to pass the committee's resolution. Miami Beach Police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez says the department abides by school policies but doesn't have a say in creating them.