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Analyzing the Effect of Zero Tolerance on Discipline by PrincipalsDissertation

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¶ … Zero Tolerance on Discipline by Principals

The occurrence of unruly incidents by students in the form of school violence in the 90s and 2000s shocked parents, lawmakers and even the students. All these groups expect the school heads to get tougher in terms of enforcement of rules and adopt a zero tolerance to such unruliness. However, it has become apparent that such reaction by the school principals only heightens tension and increases the chance of similar incidents being repeated in time. Zero tolerance even makes the incidents more severe. The policy is widely implemented in the U.S. It is also one of the most widely scrutinized school policies in the U.S.A. Zero tolerance entails prescribing clear predetermined punishment to specified violations of school regulations and rules, irrespective of the context of the behavior in question (Boccanfuso & Kuhfeld, 2011). The punishment under the policy is usually expulsion or suspension. Theoretically, it is believed that zero tolerance deters deviant behavior because the punishment is harsh and is clearly outlined.

The zero tolerance policy has been in common use in schools for several decades now. The policies came up some time in the 90s. They were widely adopted by most institutions by the end of the 90s. Although there is little empirical research to back up the policy (American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force, 2008), the policy has come under scrutiny and criticism. These policies are being reviewed by federal governments and school boards with an aim to either modify them or remove (U.S. Department of Justice & U.S. Department of Education, 2014). Critics of the policies cite that the policy make the teachers and administrators in executing their role as overseers of the students and administrators of discipline. Zero tolerance policy is observed to have a disproportionate impact on minority learners owing to its exclusionary disciplinary approaches (U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, 2014). However, only a handful of studies have focused on zero tolerance. Most of the criticisms are not based on any empirical research. Indeed, the few studies that exist focus on exclusionary aspects of discipline and punishments aspects of the school environment and not on zero tolerance policies (American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force).

1.1. Background

A look at the history of the above developments can be traced back to the 70s. The U.S. experienced a policy shift in the way it handles criminals. The policy began to focus more on more severe punishment for offenders. The rate of imprisonment is known to have increased dramatically. The expression " zero tolerance " was first coined in the justice corridors to refer to drug laws. Although it is possible that there are many individual schools that have used this approach for many years before the common adoption, the widespread use of zero tolerance started in 1994 with the Gun Free School Act. The Act permitted school administrators to expel anyone who was found with a gun within school premises (Gun-Free School Act, 1994). Many schools quickly embraced and implemented this Act with an aim of attracting or maintaining federal funding. Although there are variations in the implementation and application approaches of the zero tolerance policy, 79% of schools applied this rule to alcohol, drug abuse and violence by 1997. The policies exhibit a variation in the treatment to the students. Usually, education of such affected learners is not as effective in the alternative educational programs (Civil Rights Project & Advancement Project, 2000). Although the original use of the term zero tolerance was restricted to serious abuse regarding items such as weapons; popular media has increasingly applied the term to refer to other forms of disciplinary approaches. Teachers are reported to have pointed out that under zero tolerance, any actions that led to students being sent to the principal's office almost automatically led to either suspension or expulsion. Some critics have also pointed out that the policy led to serious punishment against minor student infractions. Thus, the schools have inadvertently aligned to the prison tendencies. A recent report by Advancement project defined zero tolerance as shortcut for all school discipline that required some form of punishment. Such definitions are not in alignment with the intended meaning of zero tolerance as fathomed by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. On its part, zero tolerance, concerning school discipline, is defined as a policy that leads to compulsory expulsion of students who commit specified crimes punishable by the zero tolerance policy (Office of Civil Rights, 2014). Consequently, there exists an apparent indication of a systematic inconsistency between legal requirements of the policy and the school rules, which adopt these policies and put them into practice. This paper attempts to examine the difference between Explicit Zero Tolerance and the Mandatory Expulsion policy. The EZT laws are clearly referred to by the expression "zero tolerance" irrespective of the offenses or the punishment prescribed. Mandatory expulsion laws are in tandem with the definition by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (Office of Civil Rights, 2014). They require compulsory expulsion for offences even if they are not openly using the phrase "zero tolerance." "

Even as institutions are inclined to eliminate the exclusionary discipline tendencies in the zero tolerance implementation, and to address the inequities inherent in the approach discipline (U.S. Department of Justice & U.S. Department of Education, 2014). There is still need to understand the extent of the use of the term 'zero tolerance'. If there is insufficient information and public awareness of the specifics of the law, it is likely that public officials will misinterpret and focus on the wrong polices. For instance, if the zero tolerance laws are explicitly about severe infractions of discipline such as weapons, then such policies may not have any impact on the exclusionary discipline used on minor infractions.

On the other hand, if there is exclusive focus on mandatory expulsion laws, some important policies and laws related to the 'zero tolerance' approach may be missed. An example is a situation where a policy that uses an alternative consequence such as suspending a student is overlooked when reviewing mandatory expulsion law or policy (U.S. Department of Justice & U.S. Department of Education, 2014).

It is clear, therefore that the understanding of the term ' zero tolerance has direct implications on the setting of school rules, policy and discipline benchmarks for both the administrators and the students.

1.2. The Protective Factor of School

Schools accommodate students from different backgrounds and unique behavior; some of which may be negative. These are the risk factors in the administration in such public institutions. If such negative factors are not properly treated, they often result in disruptive conduct by such students. The risk principle in the area of corrections points to the opposite directions with respect to the commonly expected effects of zero tolerance in schools. In juvenile delinquency context, risk is known as the probability of a child to commit a crime or offend again. Sufficient evidence exists to prove that factors that predict the chance of a child committing crime include anti-social tendencies, friends, associations and the child's anti-social history.

Substance abuse and alcohol are the additional risk factors, plus family characteristics, employment and education (Gendreau, Little, & Goggin, 1996). studies show the importance of assessing risk factors as they illustrate that intensive intervention strategies are useful in high risk young people to help mitigate recidivism. On the other hand, there are studies that show that intensive application of interventions to low risk youth individuals or a group increases the tendency to re-offend. Many juvenile justice programs make use of the objective risk assessment tool that risks establishing the likelihood of a child to reoffend. The objective is to determine which children need intensive intervention measures and vice versa (Mendez, 2003). It is evident that if such tools were not applied, many children with low risk would be subjected to the wrong treatment measures and consequently increasing their chances of reoffending. There validity in arguing that since school effectively protects children from delinquent conduct, sending them out increases their chances of their engaging in such delinquent behavior (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). There is a possibility of counter productivity in the use of zero tolerance and a heightened propensity to increase antisocial behavior. The problem with zero tolerance is that it applies in a blanket manner and incorporates both the high risk and low risk students under the same punishment. Such blanket application of tough punishment encourages low risk students to graduate to high risk offenders (Teske, 2011; Gendreau et al., 1996). A longitudinal study showed that Out-of-School Suspension (OSS) is a reliable predictor of future suspensions. Further, the survey showed that OSS is a leading contributor to poor performance in academics and the higher chance of failing to complete courses. Moreover, there is research that demonstrates that if students are handled only through punishment, they are not likely to succeed (U.S. Department of Health and Human… [END OF PREVIEW]

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