Zero Tolerance Policies

“If it were just that he missed a homework assignment or got caught chewing gum, then I could just give him a detention and be done with it. But we’ve been very clear about our new zero tolerance policy on disrespecting teachers.”  — The Principal


Does “zero tolerance” mean “zero problems?” After seeing Tino’s situation the quick answer would be no, and the same can be said for the entirety of the United States. Zero tolerance came about in response to school districts across the country trying to create stricter disciplinary guidelines regarding students, school safety and substance abuse. These stricter measures have lead to things like the 1994 Gun-Free Schools Act (GFSA) which required all states to enforce federal gun free school laws and expel students who brought a firearm onto school property. But, the problem comes when schools broadened the scope of the act’s guidelines to include other types of infractions such as possession of a weapon, substance abuse, and aggressive behavior.

Of course, at first there was no immediate problems. Parents, teachers and administrators saw these zero tolerance measures as a way to punish misbehaving students and to remove the problem. But, simply suspending or expelling the student does not solve the issue, it just stops it from being the school’s problem. See, once the student is expelled, they are not allowed back at school for a year, maybe even more. During that time, unless a parent or a teacher is caring enough, the student may not get the education that they are entitled to. Thus, the policy has lead to more students on the streets with nowhere to go during the school day putting them at risk for criminal behavior (this is why some people consider zero tolerance a pipeline to prison). In fact, about 57% of expelled students are left without access to public education or productive alternatives.

Additionally, the policy leads to situations like a 2-year expulsion of six Illinois students for fighting at a football game with no weapons or serious injuries reported. The event made headlines when Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition protested it and Jackson’s Coalition subsequently filed a lawsuit on behalf of the students. Sadly, Judge Michael McCusky ruled in favor of the expulsion, but recent years have shown a backlash against the zero tolerance policy as more people note the negative effects it has on youth development. People are realizing that zero tolerance does not make schools safer and is in no way making an improvement to student’s learning environments. Hopefully, this will lead to an end to the policy, but for now we are making the steps toward better education for our NJ residents.



Robertson, Anne S. "“Zero Tolerance”: What Parents Should Know." Zero Tolerance. 2000.

"Zero Tolerance for Zero Tolerance Policies": Newark Public Schools and Newark Police Department Launch Historic Initiative with the International Institute for Restorative Practices to End the School to Prison Pipeline." PR Newswire. August 19, 2013.