Zero Tolerance Debate: My Quick Opinion

Codes of conduct have a place in our school system, just not to the disproportionate degree in which the zero tolerance policy is currently occurring. The policy has grown counter-intuitive; it is simply contrary to what educators and administrators need to be focusing on: learning.

Zero tolerance policies have been negated by statistics. No research exists that proves the efficacy of these standardized policies. Credibility has been dissolved. Punitive action has increased and accelerated as an alternative to creating effective learning opportunities for our students.

“’Zero tolerance and expulsion don’t have to go hand in hand,’ says Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center in Westlake, Calif. ‘Zero tolerance simply means all misbehavior will have some sanction. It doesn’t mean you bring the maximum punishment for every transgression.’” (Cauchon, 1999).

Contemporary zero tolerance policies are inflexible and rarely take into account the students previous record. There are statistics available that claim the ineffectiveness of such policies.  In fact, I’d go as far to say that the zero tolerance policies we have in place have done quite the opposite of their original intention.

“Zero tolerance policies are complex, costly and generally ineffective,” (NASP, 2001).

No evidence exists that expelling any student from school makes a positive contribution to the student, society, school safety, or the community involved. There is a higher rate of repeat offenses, suspensions, and discharges in the United States due to lower rule violations being prescribed the same punishments as severe infractions. Dropout rates increase with the penalties of a mistake. These actions and consequences are typically racially disproportionate in nature, as well.

“Students who are suspended or expelled from school may be unsupervised during daytime hours and cannot benefit from great teaching, positive peer interactions, and adult mentorship offered in class and in school,” (Rich, 2014).

With regards to demographics and lower socioeconomic areas, the zero tolerance policies arrange children to face the same cycle in which their parents have grown in. Shouldn’t it be more important for us to correct, advise, and reflect, than sentence another life to a predetermined terminus? Doesn’t this idea set up for the notion that the American Dream is nonexistent? It’s practically creating a caste-based system in our society.

Students with no prior behavior concerns are still considered children, as “good” as they may be perceived to be. Children make mistakes just as adults make mistakes. The idea is that students need to be taught how to learn from their mistakes and reflect on their experiences. It is possible for most people to change with the proper methods in place (behavioral modification, role models, etc.). With the zero tolerance policies in place at the moment in schools around the country, we are sending the message that mistakes are unacceptable and thus we doom otherwise good kids to academic death and an uncertain future. Learning by failure, or by making a mistake, is real learning.

On the other hand, I do understand that there are cases in which zero tolerance needs to be considered. For example, students bringing weaponry to school should not be tolerated. Students should be punished only to the degree of their misconduct. Excessive disciplinary action is the real problem we face. If these policies stay intact, administrators need to be allowed to utilize their discretion and common sense accordingly without fear of discrimination complaints and law suits.

‘”Punishment has three components: swiftness, certainty and severity,’ Goldstein says. ‘We’ve got the severity part down only too well, but we’re not good on certainty and swiftness. And those are the parts that matter most to making zero-tolerance policies work.’” (Cauchon, 1999).

Instead of a harsh zero tolerance policy, why not allow the student the opportunity to learn from the situation? Why can’t students be placed in a program that, with good behavior, allows them to earn the right to return to a “normal” education? Why punish kids for being kids when it is part of our position to teach students to be responsible, accountable, and mature pre-adults?

What the zero tolerance policy has become has no place in our educational system.  There are many effective alternatives to the contemporary Zero Tolerance Policy.

“Schools implementing effective strategies have reported in-office discipline referrals by 20-60%; this results in improved access to academic engaged time and improved academic performance for all students,” (NASP, 2001).

Further, with schools dropping the rigid policy, positive effects were observed immediately. “Broward County, Florida schools witnessed a 41% drop in arrests and a 66% drop in suspensions after their zero tolerance policies were abandoned,” (Cushing, 2014).

I challenge the nation’s educators and administrative professionals to consider violence and drug prevention strategies, early intervention strategies, proactivity, social skills training, cognitive behavioral therapy programs, and positive behavioral support.

Now it’s your turn! What is your opinion of the Zero Tolerance Policy?



Cauchon, D. (1999). Zero-tolerance policies lack flexibility. U.S.A. Today. Retrieved from

Cushing, T. (2014). Administration calls for schools to limit use of zero tolerance policies, police officers for routine student discipline. Retrieved from

National Association of School Psychologists. (2001). Zero tolerance and alternative strategies: a fact sheet for educators and policymakers. Retrieved from

Rich, M. (2014). Administration urges restraint in using arrest or expulsion to discipline students. Retrieved from