While the term "zero tolerance" can have a variety of meanings, it usually refers to a set of policies that strictly and quickly punish students for infractions against school regulations, usually involving drugs, alcohol or academic dishonesty. There are advantages and disadvantages to zero tolerance policies, making the debate between the two sides heated and complicated.
Under zero tolerance school policies, there is a heightened risk of innocent students being punished for behaviour that they did not exhibit, or behaviour that is misinterpreted or misconstrued. Students with psychological disorders, such as attention deficit disorder, may act outwardly and rashly through no fault of their own. It is argued that these types of students need professional care and attention, rather than strict punishment.
The severity of zero tolerance punishments is hotly debated -- some supporters maintain that these punishments are very effective at preventing deviant behaviour, and some opponents maintain that they harm a student's opportunities to improve or gain access to help. For example, suspending or expelling a student because of a drug infraction may remove the student from the school's support system, making him or her more likely to commit further drug infractions.
The safety of students is always the top priority of administration, teachers and parents, and because of this, some supporters say that removing deviant or dangerous students from the student body will prevent bad influences from reaching other students. Opponents say that student bodies aren't as affected by the influence of a few deviant individuals, and that the community as a whole can benefit from providing help and support for those who need it.
Zero tolerance policies are consistent, meaning that there are clear-cut and unarguable punishments for each specific behaviour and infraction. This usually means that students are well aware of the consequences for their actions, and that they must be responsible for their decisions. However, some maintain that students sometimes lose control of themselves, and aren't always responsible for misbehaving or violating policies.
- "State School Review"; Is Your Public School's Zero Tolerance Policy Punishing Innocent Students?; Grace Chen; June 2009
- University of California Los Angeles Psychology Department: Zero Tolerance
- National School Safety and Security Services: Zero Tolerance and School Safety
- "USA Today"; Zero-tolerance Policies Lack Flexibility; Dennis Cauchon; April 1999