Zero Tolerance Policy

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Zero Tolerance

Zero Tolerance Policy

Michelle M. Voss

EFRT 459

Professor James R

August 6
, 2010

Zero Tolerance

Zero Tolerance Policy

The zero

tolerance policy has become a popular buzzword within the schools across America.
What is zero tolerance policy and why is it so popular? Education Commission of the States
2002 states that “zero tolerance generally is defined as a school district policy
that mandates
predetermined consequences or punishment for specific offenses, regardless of the
circumstances, disciplinary history, or age of the student involved” (Stader
, 2009

tolerance policy targets drugs, weapons, alcohol, fights, swearing, t
ruancy, insubordination,


code violations (Martinez, 2009).
In other words, zero tolerance policy is
an automatic punishment for students that fail to abide by set rules
guidelines, which results

in a prede
termined consequence,
lacking any flexibility or individuality per case.

It is important
to study zero tolerance policy to see if this “one
size fits all” policy works as

as it has been
The zero tolerance policy should be studied by teachers and school administrato
rs as
well. That way everyone is informed about the issues that have occurred while enforcing the

While reviewing the issues that have already occurred, zero tolerance policy could be modified
to improve the
ion of

our schools.
I feel that i
t is i
mportant for current teachers

as well as
future teachers to find a better
way to
discipline individuals on a person
person basis versus a
policy that punishes all rule breakers alike.

In this paper, I will be discussing
what the
zero tolerance

, the history, three
different perspectives, and my recommendations. When discussing what the policy is, I will also
discuss why I feel that it is important to study
the policy
. The


will include when and how
the zero tolerance policy came
to be, and what changes have occurred with zero tolerance policy

Zero Tolerance

over the years
three different perspectives on the

will be Functionalism, Conflict
Theory, and Interpretive theories.


Stephanie Martinez (2009) states that “the U.S. Customs Agency developed zero
tolerance in the 1980s to target the booming drug trade” (pg 153). The initial focus of zero
tolerance was to increase punishment for adult crime.
n in the 1990’s an increasingly large
number of people wanted harsher punishments for law
breakers. Suzan Rice (2009) shares that
after the school shootings in
, t
here was a wide outrage against gun
violence. President
Clinton signed a Gun
Free School

Act (GFSA) in 1994
, allowing

schools to receive federal
funding for education if they implemented a mandatory policy that students would be expelled
for at least a year if they were caught on school grounds with a gun. The policy has evolved over
time, it

has received a new name, and it controls more incidences. I
t now

controls drugs, alcohol,
sexual harassment, bullying, teasing, and
disrespectfulness. The zero tolerance policy leaves no
room for negotiation when a portion of the policy has been broken (p
g 559

Cassidy (2005) states, “The zero tolerance model assumes that when a child is removed from
school, he or she will repent from wrong

doing and return to school a changed person” (pg 41).

Introduction to the Three Perspectives

alism, Conflict theory, and
Interpretivist theory, are the three perspectives that I
will be discussing their views on the issue of the zero tolerance policy.
Functionalism is
a theory
that focuses on learning through economics and politics. It is made up
of a

of systems, and

Zero Tolerance

the systems are all needed to survive. Functionalists view it natural to have rich, poor, and
average income divides. Conflict Theory is much like Marxist; they focus on politics and power.
They believe in economic stratification

and that all people should agree with the people in
power. Interpretivist theory is a theory that focuses on the way of life and the ways of doing
things. They believe that all people can come to their own interpretation of an even and l
from it as we
ll. Interpretivists

feel that it is okay to have your own view or definition of
something, and there is not one right way to do things.


Functionalism is a naturally occurring social structure that believes that with hard work,
anyone can b
ecome successful. They believe that changes occur over time and the society needs
change to thrive. Functionalists
believe that societies
have one set of values that is shared by all.
With that, they believe in four norms: independence, achievement, univer
salism, and specificity.
Walter Fienberg and Jonas Soltis


share the definitions of the four norms in his book
School and Society
. The norm of independence refers to the learning that takes place when a
child takes responsibility for his or her own a
ctions and achievements. The norm of achievement
occurs when a child learns that he or she is judged on performance, as
opposed to effort
Universalism is the uniform treatment of individual members of a category.
Specificity allows
for exceptions to unive
rsalism. An example of this would be that all the children are expected to
participate in sport practice except the children

are celebrating a specific religious holiday


Most f

would want to have a zero tolerance policy placed within their school
system because it would create equal opportunity for all students.
With the ability to control

Zero Tolerance

what occurs within the schools, the students are learning responsibility as to what is mo
accepted within the community. The zero tolerance policy gives students more responsibility for
their own actions; however, it also punishes students for not following the policy.

However, some functionalist would want the zero tolerance banned due
to the issue of
due processing. Kim Fries and Todd A. DeMitchell


feel that “[z]ero tolerance does away
with the entire concept of innocent until proven guilty…
t is an exaggerated
juvenile crime
problem in derailing the educational process” (pg 214
). With having the zero tolerance policy,
students would not be given a punishment that fits the crime. If children are being held
responsible for their own actions, it would be seen that they should be given punishments that fit
the crime that they have c
ommitted than. However, with the zero tolerance policy in place, this
would not be a possible outcome.

Conflict Theory

Feinberg and Soltis share their views of c
onflict theory

a politically structured group
that struggles between power and status, bu
t strive to maintain the current social order. They
believe that only the privileged people are given opportunities for success, and it is rare for less
privileged people to receive successful opportunities. Hegemony, the
groups in power has
authority and
influence over
the non
dominate group
, is seen as the good for everyone alike.
However this false consciousness, or false set of beliefs, that is carried out by the workers
through the dominate group. With the false consciousness, the workers believe that
the system
they have is the best one there is which causes a hegemony, because the dominate group has
power over the workers. Sometimes, when the workers do not agree with the dominate group,
they join in groups to take action against the dominate group (

Zero Tolerance

Conflict theorist would feel that the zero tolerance policy should be mandated in al
schools. Conflict is usually traced to social classes, races, or gender. With this knowledge, plus
the knowledge from David Stader

, stating that 82% of
students suspended through the
zero tolerance policy were African Americans, it creates a great argument for the zero tolerance
policy to protect everyone in the schoo
l (pg 64)
This generates false consciousness by having
the dominate class create a rulin
g that makes the workers think that the interests and ruling are
identical. However, the dominate group is trying to protect themselves by using hidden
curriculum based on segregation.

Although most conflict theorist would agree with
the zer
o policy, some
would be opposed

to the policy
Rhonda B. Armistead (2008) agrees
with this saying that
the “punishment should be balanced with learning
” The zero tolerance policy is a one
policy that does not consider balancing learnin
g and punishment. If we balance learning and
punishment in our schools, our teacher would be able to focus more on the students’ behavior,
mental health, and classroom management (26).

Interpretivist Theory

Interpretivist theory is based on interpretations a person has. A person can have good and
bad interpretations. When a person is given two different interpretations of something and have
to decide which interpretation to use, they are exercising what is ca
lled a hermeneutic circle.
When a person is talking to another person,
the context of a message can mean different things
based on the way it is said, or who said it. The propositional context refers to a claim like when a
person says it is sunny today. A

relational context refers to a person stating a command or
prompt, this is a way to indicate the relationship between the deliverer of the message and the

Zero Tolerance

receiver. Attitudinal context refers to how the message is taken by the receiver, or the attitude
at the receiver has towards it. We have the choice of h
ow we want to receive messages.

Imprinting is just like this idea. Imprinting is a person’s ability to choose to believe or
disclaim another person’s idea th
at he or she hears. Another process that is like imprinting is
called habituating. Habituating is the process of looking up to someone and learning from him or
her. An interpretivist uses all of these methods to come up with their own interpretation of wha
they want to believe.

An interpretivist
, for the most part,

would not agree with the zero tolerance policy.
do not believe that anything is all good or all bad, this is the reason that they would not
completely disagree with the zero tolerance po
They would want each school to handle
situations that arise using a

technique. By using zero tolerance policy, if a student
brings Advil to school, they are getting the same punishment as if a student brought an illegal
drug to school. H
owever, this is not what

believe in. They are more concerned
with the school
at and individual level

An interpretivist


to interpret the understandings of
things happening within their school without having a policy telling them exac
tly how each case
needs to
be handled. By using imprinting and habituating, a teacher could shape his or her
students and teach them that they have choices in life that they have to deal with. The teacher
would be able to guide the child by teaching

what i
deas are right and wrong. American
Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force (2008) states,

schools with higher
rates of school suspensions and expulsions appear to have less satisfactory rating of school
climate” (pg 854). This is because
when students are removed from the class, do not have the
support of their teachers to guide them and they are missing that connection of imprinting and

Zero Tolerance

Problems with Zero Tolerance Policy

As with any policy, the zero tolerance policy is no
t perfect.
Numerous problems

come about since implementing
the policy in the schools. National Association of School
Psychologists (2008) shares some examples of the problems that have been associated with zero
tolerance policy. There has been
“inconsistent application of zero tolerance policies, which often
are not reserved exclusively for serious behaviors but applied indiscriminately to much l
levels of rule infraction.”

This means that students are not receiving punishment that fits the
crime. Because of this, there has been “an increasing rate of suspensions and expulsions
throughout the country, even though school violence generally has been stable or declining

What makes it even worse is that the length of expulsions has been increa
sing; sometimes
expulsions even become permanent.
“A high rate of repeat suspensions may indicate that
suspension is ineffective in changing behavior for challenging students.” It is shown that
suspension and expulsion are ineffective because of the elevat
ed dropout rates that are found
within the students that receive multiple suspensions and expulsions (pg 2
3). Seeing the
problems that have been incorporated with the zero tolerance policy, many people wonder why
we have kept this policy around for so man
y years.


and Interventions

How can we change the zero tolerance policy since so many statistic show that it is not
Susan Black (2004) states that with the following approaches we can make sure that
the zero tolerance policy fits the sc
hool a
nd community
in which it

is implemented.

By designing
a policy using the following approaches, the policy would better fit individual schools and their

Zero Tolerance

individual needs.

Include parents and community residents
in developing policies. (b)

er policies fairly and consistently making sure that punishment is age appropriate and
fits the offense. (e) Ensure due process for accused students. (d) Review zero
tolerance policies
and practices annually (62).
When creating a policy that fits the schoo
l and the community it is
implemented in, there is a higher chance that the policy will be more effective because it follows
the community and school norms. Wanda Cassidy states that if we ignore the various cultures
and backgrounds that our students come
from, than we are “failing to recognize the individual
differences in the context that behaviors occur” (pg 41). With this aspect given, we need to focus
more on intervention and prevention strategies within our schools.

The American Psychological Associa
tion Zero Tolerance Task Force came up with three
levels of intervention that should be followed to
create an effective school discipline and school
violence program. “(1) Primary prevention strategies targeted at all students, (2) secondary
prevention str
ategies targeted at those students who may be at risk for violence or disruption, and
(3) tertiary strategies targeted at those students who have already engaged in disruptive or violent
behavior.” An example of these would include bullying prevention (pri
mary), threat assessment
(secondary), and restorative justice (tertiary) (pg 856).

Preventative and intervention strategies should be implemented in the classroom as well as
throughout the whole school. The following examples are effective strategies to us
e within the
classroom, “helping with social skills and problem solving, creating a sense of belonging, using
community mentors, using peer mediation techniques, promote anti
bullying curriculums, and
teaching conflict management” (pg 3).

These classroom s
trategies should be used along with the
school wide strategies.

Zero Tolerance

It has been shown that the zero tolerance policy alone is not a very effective way to stop
unwanted behaviors in our schools. But, when the zero tolerance policy is paired with different
preventative and intervention strategies along with review the zero t
olerance policy on a regular
basis, has been shown to be more effective that just the policy alone. The idea of
zero tolerance

policy is strong, but a one
all policy is not something that works when our students
come from a variety of cultures an
d family backgrounds
. When paired with preventative
strategies and interventions, the zero tolerance policy becomes a more successful policy.

Zero Tolerance


American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force, Initials. (2008). Are Zero
tolerance p
olicies effective in the schools?.
American Psychologist
(9), Retrieved from

Armistead, R. B. (2008). Zero tolerance: the school woodshed.
Educational Week
Retrieved from

Black, S. (2004). Beyond zero tolerance.
The Americal School Board Journal
(9), Retrieved

Cassidy, W. (2005). From Zero tolerance to a culture of care.
Education Canada
Retrieved from

Feinberg, W., & Soltis, J. F. (2009).

School and society
. New York City, New York: Teachers
College Press.

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Fries, K., & DeMitchell, T. A. (2007). Zero tolerance and the paradox of fairness: viewpoints
from the classroom.
Journal of Law & Education
(2), Retrieved from

Martinez, S. (2009). A System gone berserk: how are zero tolerance policies really affecting
Preventing School failure
(3), Retrieved from

National Association of School Psychologists, Initials. (2008).
Zero tolerance and alternative
. Retrieved from

Rice, S. (2009). Education for toleration in an era of zero tolerance school policies: a deweyan
Educational Studies
(6), Retrieved from

Stader, D. L. (2004). Zero tolerance as public policy: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Clearing House
(2), Retrieved from

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