This issue of the Alaska Justice Forum is devoted primarily to issues related to school discipline facing school districts and the juvenile justice system.
"Trends in Juvenile Delinquency, School Suspensions, and Expulsions" provides a context for this issue by examining recent juvenile delinquency data for Alaska and looking at the rates for school suspensions and expulsions. The authors also note how recent changes in the reporting of offenses may be affecting the trend data.
A key policy that has impacted school discipline and juvenile justice is zero tolerance, which came out of the federal Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994. This policy mandated out-of-school suspensions for firearms in schools, and was soon applied to a number of additional student offenses. This resulted in a tremendous increase in out-of-school suspensions and expulsions nationally. Three distinguished professionals who have long worked with troubled youth in Alaska offer their unique perspectives on zero tolerance:
"School Discipline and the Zero Tolerance Approach" by Dean Williams, former McLaughlin Youth Center Superintendent, explores research on school discipline and the zero tolerance approach, how the zero tolerance approach expanded to include a multitude of offenses, and how research challenges long-held notions about school discipline and school safety.
"Does â€˜Zero Tolerance"' Work? Alternatives to Out-of-School Suspension and Expulsion" by Carol Comeau, former Anchorage School District Superintendent, describes the effects of zero tolerance, the efforts of the school district and a number of agencies to address the issue of juvenile crime and school discipline, and the programs that grew out of that collaboration.
"Zero Tolerance and Juvenile Justice: A View from the Bench" by William Hitchcock, former Anchorage Children's Court Master, discusses the impact of zero tolerance policies, the link between educational failure and juvenile crime, and the need for the appropriate response to wrongful behavior by youth.
The final article, "StepUp: Helping Kids with Discipline Problems Stay in School," describes a diversion program for expelled or long-term suspended high school students developed in 2009 by the Anchorage School District and the Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice and its expansion in 2011 to include middle school students.