6 Oct 2022


Zero Tolerance Policy

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Academic level: Master’s

Paper type: Essay (Any Type)

Words: 1927

Pages: 7

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The Need That Precipitated The Development And Implementation of The Policy 

The term “zero tolerance policies” refers to the individual school or district-wide policies that allow for pre-determined harsh punishments which include expulsion and expulsion of students for different and wide-ranging violations of rules (Wheeler, 2007). In the United States, The Zero tolerance policy is the most widely scrutinized and implemented policy in reference to school discipline. Notably, the Zero tolerance policy assigns predetermined and explicit punishments to specific rule violations, without considering the context or situations of the student’s behavior. In most situations, the punishment that is applied under the Zero tolerance policy is extremely severe. Moreover, in theory, the policy is meant to deter students from illegal and violent behavior since the punishments for the rule violations are usually certain and harsh. 

It is worth noting that the zero tolerance policy was developed to respond to the highly publicized incidents of violence in American schools which included the massacre at Columbine High School (Wheeler, 2007). Since its development, individual schools’ policies on discipline have become more severe for students. Originally, the Zero tolerance policy was only applied to matters of criminal justice system as one of the approaches of enforcing drug laws. Later, the policy would become widely adopted in schools during the 1990s and 2000s. The adoption in schools was due to the perception that it was seen as being less favorable in the system of criminal justice. 

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Goals of the Policy 

Apparently, the zero tolerance policy has been developed and implemented at the school, district, as well as at state levels with the objective of making sure the safety of both staff and students is improved (Casella, 2015). Admittedly, under the zero tolerance policy, there have been different policies that are employed by individual schools with the aim of creating law and order in their activities. However, it must be noted that all these policies have one common component of the zero tolerance policy. Although it is clear that one of the most important responsibilities of leaders in schools is to ensure the safety of students as well as the staff, it has not been clear if zero tolerance policies are helping a lot in enhancing safety at school premises. 

Most of the evidence-based and non-experimental studies show that the policies may be having adverse effects on the behavioral and academic outcomes of students (Casella, 2015). Some of the measures taken by schools in enforcing zero tolerance policies include ensuring that the students are passing through metal detectors with the aim of guaranteeing the safety of other students and staff. In ensuring the zero tolerance is implemented, when students are caught breaking a specific school rule, under the zero tolerance policy, they are given certain punishments immediately. Admittedly, zero tolerance policies are mostly applied in high schools, middle as well as elementally schools in the United States. The punishments given are more severe especially when students are caught with drugs, weapons, or having cause violence. 

Stakeholders in the Formulation and Implementation of The Policy. 

Policies on zero tolerance started emerging in the late 80s and early 90s due to the increased rates of crime in schools which involved the use of weapons, drugs, and violence (Schoonover, 2009). In this particular time, events such as mass shootings and the application of strict federal laws such as the 1994’s Gun-Free Schools Act (GFSA) that played a critical role in prohibiting the use of guns in schools made administrators in schools to come up with no-nonsense punishments with the aim of deterring crime and creating safer school environments (Wheeler, 2007). For instance, school administrators suspended and expelled students including being arrested by the law enforcement people for violating rules under the zero tolerance policy. 

At the individual level, it is important to underscore the role played by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling who published an article in 1982 on the broken windows theory of crime in the “The Atlantic Monthly” which was the cultural magazine in the United States (Schoonover, 2009). The article helped to popularize the idea in the 1973 New Jersey policy which had the basic assumptions of zero tolerance policies under the Safe and Clean Neighborhoods Act. Therefore, directly and indirectly, scholars helped to assess the effectiveness of the application of this policy in not only schools but also in other social spheres such as in the fight against drugs and crime (Schoonover, 2009). For example , American scholars in matters of criminology and criminal justice, Edward Maguire and John Eck from American University and the University of Cincinnati respectively, conducted a research study which found that the policy was not helpful in the reduction of crime. 

The government through law enforcement agencies and the ministry of education are pivotal in the implementation of the zero tolerance policy. However, it must be emphasized that the law enforcers such as the police have been accused of being discriminative along racial lines when dealing with offenders. School administrators have also been at the center of the implementation process. As noted, most schools have developed their specific policies mandated under the zero tolerance policy. In some institutions, the policies have been extended to cover even parents and other visitors to prevent entry of banned items in schools. 

Notably, legislators have as well been key stakeholders especially in reviewing the provisions of the law (Casella, 2015). In recent times, there have been calls for the legislators in the Congress to strike down the abusive provisions that allow school administrators to use extreme punishments on students. At the same time, American judges, through courts, have played their role in providing a legal interpretation of many cases brought before them regarding the zero tolerance policy. 

Barriers to The Implementation of The Policy 

Although there are different barriers to the implementation of the policy, one of the striking challenges is the conflict created between the juvenile justice system and the educational system. Apparently, there has been enough evidence that shows that the introduction of the zero tolerance policy has affected the balance between the two systems (Schoonover, 2009) . For example, it has been found that zero tolerance policies seem to have increased the use as well as the reliance in school on specific strategies such as profiling, security personnel, and security technology. Further, sustained negative criticism on the zero tolerance policy has also affected its success. Many studies note that although different stakeholders argue that zero tolerance policy has been effective in reducing violence and improving safety at schools, it is not clear that the reduction in violence or crime is related to the implementation of the policy. 

At the same time, the school administrators have introduced extreme rules that affect the spirit of the zero tolerance policy (Casella, 2015) . Notably, the introduction and development of different policies by schools have resulted in unstandardized forms of punishments which have led to increased negative criticism. On the other hand, individual persons, schools, and government agencies have been accused of being biased in the application of zero tolerance policy. For example, a study has shown that most of the punished students are black, which raises the intention of the policy. In fact, based on this reality, Obama had warned that his government would review the zero tolerance policies and replace them with other provisions (Schoonover, 2009) . Finally, some stakeholders, especially school administrators have failed to understand the initial aim of the policy. In this way, they have only focused on the punitive side of the policy and disregarded other provisions affecting its success story. 

Allocation of Funds to Implement The Zero Tolerance Policy 

The implementation of the zero tolerance policy has been funded mainly by both Federal and States’ governments (Kafka, 2011). Although there have been other financiers such as non-governmental organizations, state and federal governments have been the largest players on that front. The schools are expected to apply for the funding after meeting the basic requirements such as ensuring that measures have been taken to have a gun-free environment at school. However, states had to enact laws requiring school districts to expel those students who were bringing guns to school for them to qualify for the federal education funds (Kafka, 2011). Over the years, school districts have argued that the federal education funds are never enough in the implementation of the zero tolerance policy. For example, schools are required to have bought metal detectors, hire school guards, among other requirements which have been a costly affair. 

Meeting The Policy’s Goals 

Based on the evidence-based research and despite the legislative support on the zero tolerance, it has been clear that the policy is not effective (Casella, 2015). The assumptions that underlie the policy have yet to be met while its objective has not been fulfilled. Moreover, the initial plan was to make the policy part of a comprehensive prevention program. However, schools have failed to implement the program by only focusing on the punitive aspects. 

On the other hand, the policy was not intended to be discriminative. Studies have shown that most of the minority students find themselves at a disadvantage due to this policy. For example, African American and Latinos are likely to suffer penalties and punishments from the policy due to racism (Casella, 2015). Based on social settings in America, Latinos and African Americans as likely to stay in risky and dangerous neighborhoods making them more likely to be punished and less resilient to the consequences of expulsion and suspension from schools. The effects of punishments have been associated to have more harmful impacts to students including affecting their mental health among others. 

Modifications or Amendments to The Policy 

In recent years, there has been enough research that recommends several strategies in making the zero tolerance policy more effective including replacing it with more explicit programs (Morrison, 2007). However, I think it would be prudent to make the policy more explicit by introducing the levels of intervention in terms of three categories which include primary, secondary and tertiary strategies. I believe that the application and implementation of such strategies will bring more harmony in the education sector. Under these strategies, the primary interventions aim to target all students while the secondary prevention strategies should be targeted to students that are at high risk of disruption or violence (Schoonover, 2009). 

Finally, the tertiary prevention strategies should aim those who may have already engaged in such violent and disruptive behaviors. Under the three strategies, schools can further employ bullying prevention, threat assessment, and restorative justice in primary, secondary, and tertiary strategies. However, it would be prudent to have a comprehensive system of the framework in the implementation process which should guide schools on the best way of adopting such alternatives. In addition, the development and implementation of social skills program that integrates all students should be encouraged. Critical to note is that social skill programs have been strongly rooted in the education psychology and research and have been recognized as instrumental in changing people’s behavior. Notably, programs on social skills such as Stop and Think have deep roots in education psychology and research, focusing on getting teachers to help students build the skills necessary for success as opposed to punishing them for not having them in the first place. It divides those skills into four categories: survival, interpersonal, problem-solving, and conflict resolution .

Under the program, teachers use group activities and role-playing to get students to work on those skills. They also get cue cards to help remind students about the skills they should be focusing on. It’s one of the programs recommended by the National Association of School Psychologists and has been shown to reduce referrals to the principal’s office, as well as suspensions and expulsions. 

Role of The Social Workers in Implementation 

Although there are different roles of school social workers, the above recommendation requires their input. As noted, the three strategies are all preventative in nature. In fact, social workers should be involved at the most basic level of knowing if any form of violence has been experienced by a student. Critical to note is that social workers can work comfortably with teachers, school administrators and students as well as community members in trying to prevent violence from taking place in schools and help school staff in intervening after violence has occurred. Social workers have been trained on how to extract information from individuals in the society. Therefore, they can be instrumental in interrogating students before, during and after any form of violence. At the same time, they can assist schools in developing and implementing specific programs such as anti-bullying programs. Moreover, social workers can help in counseling students who have participated in violence or those affected by such violence .


Casella, R. (2015). At zero tolerance: Punishment, prevention, and school violence . New York: 


Kafka, J. (2011). The history of "zero tolerance" in American public schooling . New York: 

Palgrave Macmillan 

Morrison, B. (2007). Restoring safe school communities . Leichhardt, NSW: Federation Press. Schoonover, B. J. (2009). Zero tolerance discipline policies: The history, implementation and 

controversy of zero tolerance policies in student codes of conduct . Bloomington, IN: 


Wheeler, L. L. (2007). Principals' perceptions of zero tolerance policies regarding student 

disciplinary practices in the public school system . Stanislaus: M.A. California State 

University Press. 

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 16). Zero Tolerance Policy.


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