Rationales Behind Zero Tolerance Discipline and the Reality of Negative Consequences

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"Zero Tolerance Policy in Schools: Rationale, Consequences, Alternatives," Teachers College Record, Vol. 105, No. 5, p872-92 (2003).

This article examines the rationales behind zero tolerance, and the realities of zero tolerance in action, including increasing expulsions and the fact that once expelled, minority students in particular have a harder time returning to school. Zero-tolerance is used as part of an overall crime-control model based on deterrence; thus, both actual violence and the promotion of violence can be punished. It is intended to be part of a package that includes: clear consequences and consistent application, consistent use of alternative schools, knowledge of pros and cons of zero-tolerance, and development of mediation/violence prevention/conflict resolution models. Zero-tolerance policies, like mandatory sentencing laws, were supposed to bring consistency and remove bias from punishments. However, administrators frequently overlook provisions (as in the Gun Free School act itself) that allow for case-by-case discretion. Moreover, due to discrepancies in “social capital,” expelled minority students have a harder time returning to school. The article provides a summary chart of various alternatives to zero-tolerance including violence prevention initiatives, school discipline initiatives and restorative justice models.


Teachers College Record


Casella, Ronnie

Wed, 01/01/2003