The Flaws of Zero-Tolerance Policies in Schools

We have witnessed tragic school shootings such as the Columbine massacre in 1999 and the more recent Virginia Tech tragedy. Schools like University of Texas, California State University, and San Diego State University have also experienced violence. Students and teachers have lost their lives to gunmen harboring grudges. While discipline is essential in schools, zero-tolerance policies need reform to address the gray areas, disruptions to education, and claims of racial discrimination. Many believe these policies unfairly punish all students for the actions of a few, making even the most diligent students feel uncomfortable.

In Jesse Katz's article, a girl named Kimberly brought Midol to school to help ease menstrual cramps. She shared it with another girl, Erica, who also needed it. As a result, Kimberly was suspended for ten days. Kimberly's parents later filed a federal lawsuit against the district for racial discrimination, as Kimberly, who is black, was suspended for an additional 80 days just for having the drug. Another instance of unfair punishment mentioned in the article is a seventh grader from West Virginia who shared a zinc cough drop with a friend.

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The unjust application of zero-tolerance policies is evident in various cases. For instance, a seventh grader from West Virginia was suspended for sharing a zinc cough drop with a friend. Similarly, a thirteen-year-old girl faced consequences after a drug-sniffing dog detected Advil in her backpack. These incidents highlight the flaws in a system that lacks flexibility. In an article by Kathy Koch titled "Zero Tolerance for School Violence: Is Mandatory Punishment in Schools Unfair?" examples are given to illustrate this issue.

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One such example involves five high school students in rural Mississippi who were arrested for assault after playfully tossing peanuts on a school bus, resulting in potential prison time for the offense.

Despite the criminal charges being dropped, the teenagers faced suspensions and lost their bus privileges, leading all five to drop out due to the inability to make the 30-mile trip to school. Critics argue that the strict one-strike-and-you're-out policies implemented to prevent school violence and misbehavior often exceed reasonable boundaries. Examples from the public school crime blotter include a 6-year-old boy in York, Pa., suspended for carrying nail clippers, a second-grader in Columbus, Ohio suspended for drawing and pointing a paper gun at classmates, a Florida boy handcuffed and jailed for splashing classmates in a puddle, and a Virginia boy suspended for accepting a breath mint. Jewish youths were also suspended for wearing the Star of David, a symbol sometimes associated with gang membership. Zero-tolerance policies punish all offenses severely, regardless of severity. These policies were established after the 1994 Gun-Free Schools Act mandated one-year expulsions for firearms or bombs on school grounds. However, zero-tolerance rules in many states extend to fighting, drug/alcohol use, gang activity, as well as minor offenses such as possessing over-the-counter medications, disrespecting authority, sexual harassment, threats, and vandalism.

In 1997, over 90 percent of U.S. public schools implemented zero-tolerance policies for firearms or other weapons, while more than 85 percent had similar policies for drugs and alcohol. Some schools even consider offenses like carrying cough drops or wearing black lipstick as punishable acts. Writing about sensitive topics like murder or suicide may also result in disciplinary action for students. These strict policies can disrupt the learning environment, leading to punishment for students who misbehave, even for minor offenses. The implementation of zero-tolerance policies has raised concerns about racial discrimination and the trust placed in teachers to make appropriate judgment calls in disciplinary matters.A study in 2002 revealed that blacks were more likely to face disciplinary action for minor offenses compared to whites. Whites were disciplined for behaviors like smoking, leaving without permission, vandalism, and using obscene language, while blacks were disciplined for disrespect, excessive noise, threats, and loitering (Billitteri 153). Growing up constantly concerned about skin color can hinder a child's ability to concentrate on schoolwork and may even lead to bullying, except this time it may come from school administrators instead of other students.

Proponents of zero-tolerance policies argue that they are effective at reducing crime rates and should be maintained. According to Billitteri, the Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2007 study supports this claim by showing a significant decrease in student homicides from 1992-1993 to the Columbine shooting in 1999. However, the study also reveals ongoing issues with weapons, drugs, theft, and violence in schools. Zero-tolerance policies may help combat student crimes but are criticized for lacking fairness. Claims such as considering breath mints as drugs highlight the need for reform. It is essential to evaluate each case individually rather than judging based on factors like race. Despite good intentions, zero-tolerance policies require adjustments.

Works Cited

In 2001, a study from questioned the effectiveness of zero tolerance policies. Kathy Koch's article from CQ Researcher Online in 2000 also challenged the fairness of mandatory punishment in schools. Thomas Billitteri's piece from 2008 further discussed the fairness of zero tolerance policies in schools. Additionally, a report from the National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2007 highlighted indicators of school crime and safety.

Updated: Feb 21, 2024
Cite this page

The Flaws of Zero-Tolerance Policies in Schools. (2016, Feb 22). Retrieved from

The Flaws of Zero-Tolerance Policies in Schools essay
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