"You have to ask yourself why that is," Lamont said.
The AAP had no estimate for how many U.S. school districts had zero-tolerance policies. But they are "very common," said Katherine Cowan, director of communications for the National Association of School Psychologists.
Cowan said the new AAP policy is in line with her group's thinking on the issue. "It's great to have pediatricians weighing in on this now," she said, noting that pediatricians play a big role in spotting kids' behavioral and health issues early on.
Cowan said there are "obvious, silly examples" of zero-tolerance being too rigidly applied, such as suspending elementary school kids because their parents packed a butter knife with their lunch. Last month, a Pennsylvania kindergartener was suspended for threatening classmates with her Hello Kitty "bubble gun."
Most often, however, suspensions and expulsions are doled out when kids do misbehave. The issue, Lamont and Cowan said, is that the punishment doesn't fit the crime.
"And we have alternatives that are proven to work," Cowan said.
One example the AAP points to is a program called Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports, already used in more than 16,000 U.S. schools. Many state education departments have "technical assistance" centers that help schools implement the plan.
The program's goal is to prevent behavior problems or keep them from escalating. The first step is for schools to come up with expectations for all students' behavior -- such as keeping your hands to yourself when you're in the hallway or speaking up when you see a student being bullied -- and making those expectations clear.
The response to rule-breaking is also made clear; if it's minor, a teacher might handle it with a simple reminder of the school's expectati
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