TEXT ON SCREEN: April 7, 2016
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 4-7-16): DAVID MUIR: A school officer throwing a middle-school student to the ground.
ARCHIVAL (WUSA 10-27-15):NEWS REPORT: Cell phone video shows the deputy grabbing the student around the neck.
ARCHIVAL (WJZ BALTIMORE, 3-1-16): REPORTER: A school police officer hitting and kicking a young man.
NARRATION: A series of violent encounters between students and police has been making national news and raising questions about the role of police in schools.
ARCHIVAL (KDVR DENVER, 1-8-14):NEWS REPORT: Eight-year-olds in handcuffs, students suspended for stick figure drawings.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 11-7-03): JUDITH BROWNE: Were putting in their minds that theyre criminals and that may be what we wind up with.
NARRATION: How did we get here?Thirty years ago, many schools were fed up with crime and violence.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 2-26-82):STUDENT: Just about every month theres a gun, some type of gun.
NARRATION: And the government called for more police, and zero tolerance for violence at school.
BERTIE SIMMONS: Zero tolerance means you dont put up with anything. If the student broke the rules you wouldnt tolerate it. Youd just put them out.
ERIC H. HOLDER JR. (ATTORNEY GENERAL, 2009-2015): Were going to get rid of, were going to forget, were going to warehouse these bad kids, in a way that wed never done before. We have a connection between our school system and criminal justice system that did not exist before and that I dont think should exist now.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 2-26-82):NEWS REPORT: Just one more victim of a violent crime wave sweeping many of the nations public schools
NARRATION: In the 1980s, news reports were filled with schools that appeared to be on the verge of chaos, places not of learning but of fear and violence.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 2-26-82):NEWS REPORT: Rape, arson and attempted murder..WOMAN: Its dangerous even to go to school now.
NARRATION: And Eastside High in Paterson, New Jersey, was considered one of the worst.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 1-5-88):NEWS REPORT: The meanest, toughest school in North Jersey. Drugs, dropouts, trouble.
ZATITI MOODY (FORMER STUDENT, EASTSIDE HIGH SCHOOL): Kids would get jumped and beat up for their sneakers, their coats, their bombers.
NARRATION: Zatiti Moody was a student at Eastside when a principal named Joe Clark became a symbol of a tough new approach to discipline.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 1-5-88):JOE CLARK: Youre caught in the hallway without a pass that means suspension.
ZATITI MOODY: The school is in despair and theres kind of hopelessness all around you. But he was fighting for our right to have an education free from interference.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 1-5-88):JOE CLARK: Im going to carry this bat and any drug pusher I see trying to enter into those 35 doors Im going to beat the hell out of him!
NARRATION: But Clark also did something even more controversial to get the school under control.
ARCHIVAL (LOCAL NEWS):NEWS REPORT: He forced out some 300 students because as he saw it, they were the hardcore trouble-makers.
KAREN JOHNSON (TEACHER, 1979-95, EASTSIDE HIGH SCHOOL): He had the kids in the auditorium.And he said, you are under-credited, you are over-aged, you will never graduate from this high school. And he had the guard walk them to the door.
ARCHIVAL (LOCAL NEWS): JOE CLARK: There are some people you are not going to save, they are incorrigible.
KAREN JOHNSON: Removing those students that was a bold approach to education. He became a national icon.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 3-20-89): TOM BROKAW: Joe Clark is one of the best-known school principals in America. The Rambo of public education.
NARRATION: And a movie based on Clark made the power of strict discipline part of popular culture.
ARCHIVAL (LEAN ON ME MOVIE, 1989): MORGAN FREEMAN: These people are all drug dealers and drug users you are all expurgated.
NARRATION: By the time Lean on Me came out, Clark had clashed with the school board over his tactics, but tough discipline was spreading to other schools, as reports of gun violence were starting to rise.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 10-29-93):NEWS REPORT: Last year alone there were 35 violent deaths in schools.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 10-13-93):NEWS REPORT: One student shot and killed another in a hallway.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 3-25-98):NEWS REPORT: Kids killing or being killed has emerged as a potential national crisis.
ERIC H. HOLDER JR. (DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL, 1997-2001, ATTORNEY GENERAL, 2009-2015): Were not talking about kids who were doing routine kinds of bad things in school. These were kids with guns who were murdering other kids. There was a real concern that we were just losing, losing control as a society.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 3-25-98): ERIC H. HOLDER JR.: We have got to be tough. We have to take those young people who are in essence predators, even at a young age, and separate them from the rest of society.
NARRATION: By the mid 90s, when Eric Holder was Deputy Attorney General, getting tough in schools had already become national policy: the federal government mandated immediate expulsion for anyone who brought a gun to school.The policy came to be known by a single phrase.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 11-11-99): DAN RATHER: Zero tolerance.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 3-8-99): JUDY WOODRUFF: Zero tolerance.
ARCHIVAL (CSPAN, STATE OF THE UNION, 2-4-97): PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Zero tolerance for guns and drugs in schools.
ERIC H. HOLDER JR.: People were looking for ways to put up rings around schools to reduce the possibility that violent crimes could occur.
NARRATION: Then, in 1999, a mass shooting captured national attention.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 4-20-99): TOM BROKAW: Its happened again. A mass shooting at an American school.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 4-20-99): PETER JENNINGS: Columbine High in Littleton, Colorado; it has been a horror.
NARRATION: Columbine added fuel to the push for more school security.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 4-22-99): TOM BROKAW: Parents across the country are demanding to know what their schools are doing to keep their children safe.
NARRATION: The federal government devoted hundreds of millions of dollars to adding more police in schools.
ERIC H. HOLDER JR.: There was the need in some neighborhoods for a police officer presence to be there. The hope was to make schools safer. To make our nation safer.
NARRATION: Ten years later, Eric Holder came back to government, this time as Attorney General. He began to look at the impact of zero tolerance policies. It turned out school violence had already started to fall before the policies were fully implemented. But the effect of zero tolerance on students was startling.
ERIC H. HOLDER JR.: Some of the numbers that were presented to me, I actually thought had to be wrong.
NARRATION: For years, schools had been suspending more than three million students a year and it wasnt just for guns.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 11-11-99):NEWS REPORT: Seven-year-old Lamont Agnew was kicked out of the second grade for 45 days for bringing toenail clippers to class.
NARRATION: And with more police in schools, the police were handling more discipline problems and arresting tens of thousands of students. Investigations would find that in some schools, the most common charge was disorderly conduct, like kicking a trash can.
ERIC H. HOLDER JR.: Things that were routine infractions when I was growing up and might have landed you in the principals office, you ended up in a police precinct. I dont remember one kid in the time that I was in the public schools in New York City who ever got arrested.
NARRATION: And Holder saw something even more troubling in the data.
ERIC H. HOLDER JR.: Black kids are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their white counterparts. They are much more likely to be treated harshly for the same conduct. If you are suspended or expelled you are much more likely to drop out. If you drop out you are much more likely to become involved in the criminal justice systems. And this has a huge, huge impact on the lives of young people.
NARRATION: Zero tolerance changed Jeremy Hudsons life when he was 12. He says one day before school he helped his mom poke a hole in her belt with a multi-tool.
JEREMY HUDSON: It consists of pliers, nail filers, a can opener, a corkscrew. I went to school that day and Im sitting in class and it fell out of my pocket.
NARRATION: Under the school districts zero tolerance policy, it was considered a weapon. He was expelled and arrested.
JEREMY HUDSON: Took me in handcuffs, took me to the police station and I was at the police station until like two oclock in the morning.
NARRATION: He was sent to another school but he soon stopped going, ran away from home, and was later arrested a few more times, including for stealing a car.
JEREMY HUDSON: I think I would have had more opportunities if that one incident was handled differently.I wouldnt have had a juvenile record. I think my life would have taken a different path.
NARRATION: He now works with the families of other young people who have been arrested.
JEREMY HUDSON: Most of my kids I work with, man, their problems come from school.
ERIC H. HOLDER JR.: The reality is, kids are kids. They do things that are disruptive. They do things that are bad sometimes.We put in place a series of zero tolerance policies that might have been aimed at gun violence, but that had a much more all encompassing effect.
NARRATION: In 2014, Holder worked with the Department of Education to issue new guidelines warning schools that it was time to rethink discipline.
ARCHIVAL (MSNBC, 1-8-14): ERIC H. HOLDER JR.: A routine school discipline infraction should land a student in the principal`s office not in a police precinct.
ERIC H. HOLDER JR.: My view of things has, has probably evolved. But thats only because of my willingness to accept facts.
BERTIE SIMMONS (PRINCIPAL, FURR HIGH SCHOOL, 2000-PRESENT): I thought that, what are we doing to public education and why are we permitting this to happen? And if were setting that kind of example I cant tolerate it.I cant be a part of it.
NARRATION: Bertie Simmons has been taking a different approach to discipline since she became principal of Houstons Furr High.
BERTIE SIMMONS: What we attempt to do is to restore relationships. Have an opportunity to go and talk through their problems calmly.
NARRATION: Problems that cant be resolved are sent to a student court, which recently sentenced two students accused of falsifying permission slips.
BERTIE SIMMONS (IN CLASS COURTROOM): Jurors, these two young men have been charged
BERTIE SIMMONS (IN INTERVIEW): The consequences are academic. We dont give punitive kinds of consequences.
STUDENT (IN CLASS COURTROOM): The court has decided were going to have you do a two-page research paper on the consequences of forgery.
NARRATION: Simmons credits the discipline policy with transforming Furr High into an award-winning school. The graduation rate was 57 percent when she arrived in 2000.
BERTIE SIMMONS: Its 90 or plus now.If you just treat people with kindness, its far better than being so punitive.
NARRATION: Today many schools across the country are moving away from zero tolerance, but some say they still need strict discipline. At Joe Clarks old school, Zatiti Moody is now co-principal. When he started, he moved dozens of the most disruptive students out of the school and sent them to alternative schools for kids with behavior problems.
ZATITI MOODY (PRINCIPAL OF OPERATIONS, EASTSIDE HIGH): Disrupting the class, disrupting the teacher, disrupting the lesson, thats the worst crime you can commit in our school.
NARRATION: But, now, hes also trying to do things differently.
ZATITI MOODY: Its more than just getting tough. I think a kid who-who causes this type of disruption, who takes away from the environment, needs more school, not less school.
KAREN JOHNSON (PRINCIPAL OF SCHOOL GOVERNMENT, EASTSIDE HIGH SCHOOL): You cant educate unless you have order in your school. And Clark was able to that. He felt the best thing was to move the students out. Back then, there were no alternatives. And that was a disservice to, really, a generation of students.
ERIC H. HOLDER, JR.: I think the pendulum swung too far in the wrong direction in the, in the 1990s. I dont think theres any question that fear drove a substantial part of this policy making. And led to these, these policies that we are trying to understand now. And in many cases trying to, to unravel.