Zero Tolerance Policy in Schools: Does it Work?

A zero tolerance policy in schools is one in which a student faces immediate punishment (usually suspension or expulsion) for every infraction, regardless of extenuating circumstances or whether it was unintentional. Many school systems have instated this policy in order to curb drug and violence problems, but there are some who say the policy is unfair and ineffective.

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Does the zero tolerance policy in schools help or hurt?

The American Psychological Association (APA) took a look at the policy and issued a report of its findings:

  • Kids who are suspended from school have been found to misbehave more often and face further suspensions in the future.
  • Suspension and expulsion were also associated with a higher school-dropout rate and failure to graduate on time.
  • Schools with zero tolerance policies were found to spend a disproportionate amount of time on discipline, leading to a less satisfactory school climate. These schools were also found to have less academic achievement.
  • Minority students and students with disabilities were disproportionately subjected to suspension and expulsion.
  • These policies involve referring children to the juvenile justice system for infractions that were once handled in school – a practice that is much more costly as well as negative.

Overall, the APA found that the zero tolerance policy increases student shame, alienation, and rejection, while breaking healthy adult bonds.  Rather than focusing directly on punishment, the APA believes schools should provide guidance and instruction, as well as taking into consideration extenuating or mitigating circumstances. Through better communication between schools, parents, law enforcement personnel and jurisdictions, and juvenile justice and mental-health professionals, the APA believes alternatives to zero tolerance can be developed that would be more effective in reducing the instances of repeat offenders, leading to less violence and a safer school climate.

Is your child in a zero tolerance school? What do you think of it?

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