The zero tolerance policy strives to reduce violence in schools and make schools a safer place for students. Anne Atkinson, a member of the Virginia Board of Education defines zero tolerance as a “policy that mandates predetermined consequences or punishments for specified offenses. ” The policy first became effective in 1989, but grew most rapidly in 1994 when the Gun- Free Schools Act was passed (1).
There are many controversies about the zero tolerance policy including whether or not the policy is effective in reducing violence in schools, whether or not schools are trying to handle disciplinary actions in a fair manner, and whether or not all students are treated equally when punishments are determined. While many supporters, such as school administration, believe that the zero tolerance policy is necessary in schools, those who oppose the policy, such as parents, believe that the policy is unfair and ineffective in schools.
Those who support the zero tolerance policy believe that the policy is effective in reducing violence in school. Atkinson argues that “strict policies are needed to send a clear message and are designed to protect students” (2). Agreeing with Atkinson, Richard Curwin and Allen Mendler, scholars on the zero tolerance policy, believe that by using the zero tolerance policies, it is evident to students that aggressive behavior is unacceptable. By allowing the students to realize that misbehavior will not be tolerated, students become more likely to obey the rules and cooperate with schools (1).
According to the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence (NCCEV), 17. 1% of students carried weapons at school and 71% of elementary and secondary schools have experienced at least one violent crime by a student. A nationwide survey suggested that 15% of students have been involved in a physical fight on school grounds. By using the zero tolerance policy, those students who are violent in school are expelled or suspended, resulting in schools becoming a safer environment for students and teachers (3).
Although defenders of the zero tolerance policy agree that they policies are effective, those who oppose the policy do not believe that the policies are effective in reducing school violence. People who are against the zero tolerance policy agree that the policy is ineffective in reducing school violence. Members of the American Psychological Association (APA), the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States, agree that schools are no safer and more effective in teaching discipline that before the zero tolerance policy in the 1980s.
They also agree that school violence is not out of control, so zero tolerance policies are not necessary (1). Russell Skiba, chairman of the Indiana Education Policy Center and Reece Peterson, a scholar on the zero tolerance policy, conducted statistics that show “violent crimes occurred at an annual rate of fifty-three per one hundred thousand students. Because evidence shows that violence rates are not out of control, critics argue that there are many other alternatives that can be used to promote a safer environment for students and teachers (2).
According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), some alternatives that reduce violence in schools include a prevention curriculum, help from school workers, counselors, and psychologists, and parental/family involvement (3). Whether the policy is effective or ineffective is only one aspect of the controversy; there are many other controversies that occur within the policy. Whether schools are handling disciplinary action in a fair manner is a main controversy when discussing the zero tolerance policy.
Russell Skiba believes that the way in which schools punish students is fair. He thinks that rash punishments improve overall student behavior and discipline. Skiba acknowledges the fact that harsh disciplinary actions are determined by the degree of the student’s violent actions (29). While some people agree that schools are just when using the zero tolerance policy, others disagree and believe that schools are extremely unfair. Those who oppose the zero tolerance policy believe that the way in which schools use the zero tolerance policy to punish students is very rash and unfair.
Those against the zero tolerance policy, such as Skiba, believe that rash suspensions and expulsions, rather than improving student behavior, forces students to misbehave more frequently. He also believes that rash suspensions and expulsions lead to an increased number of school dropouts and failure to graduate on time (28). A personal example of zero tolerance proves schools to be rash and unfair when punishing students. My ten-year-old cousin went to a public school where he was a part of the minority group. He found a pocketknife at home and thought it was the coolest thing he had ever seen.
Being an immature, unknowing child, my cousin brought the pocketknife to school to show his friends, not intending on using it in any dangerous way possible. As he took the knife out of his pocket to show is closest friends, a teacher spotted him and immediately jerked him away from his friends and into the principal’s office. The principal, being the one to decide punishment, automatically expelled my ten-year-old cousin for bringing a pocketknife to school, even though he did not harming anyone or anything with the knife. Because my cousin was expelled from school, he is no longer in school this year and now has to repeat the grade.
This is a perfect example of how the zero tolerance policy leads to school dropout and failure to graduate on time. Not only is the process of punishment a controversy, but whether or not racism is used to punish is also an issue concerning the zero tolerance policy. An important controversy when debating on the zero tolerance policy is whether or not racism is involved when schools are punishing students. Russell Skiba and Allen Mendler argue that schools are completely just and equal when determining punishments for violence in schools.
They agree that no matter race, ethnicity, language, or abilities, if you portray a violent action, rash punishments will result (1). Although supporters agree that the policy treats all people equal, those who oppose the policy agree that racism occurs when punishing students using the zero tolerance policy. According to those that oppose the policy, zero tolerance is an unjust policy that does not treat all students equally. The American Psychological Association (APA) agrees that the disproportionate discipline of students of color is and continues to be a concern when discussing the zero tolerance policy.
They believe that most expulsions and suspensions are punishments that result from African Americans or Latinos that are violent in schools. Another target group of schools that use the zero tolerance policy are those people with disabilities, especially with emotional and behavioral disorders (2). There are many important controversies dealing with the zero tolerance policy, and many people either support the controversy or are opposed to the controversy. Zero tolerance attempts to prevent violence in schools and create a safer environment for the school community.
It is viewed as a policy that that tries to teach students wrong from right, and gives students a sense of discipline. Although some believe that the policy has good intentions, there are many controversies that aroused, causing many debates that challenge the effectiveness of the policy. While many people who believe that the policy creates a safer environment for students and teachers support the zero tolerance policy, there are many who oppose the zero tolerance policy, arguing that it is unfair and ineffective in reducing violence in schools.