Zero tolerance may yield positive effects of communicating to parents, teachers and students that certain behaviors such as drug possession, fighting or profanity are not allowed in schools. Students are accountable for the actions and teachers are able to articulate clear expectations about disciplinary consequences and provide a chaos-free climate. Parents are put at ease knowing that strong and consistent procedures are in place for students who have committed major offenses.
Clear Disciplinary Expectations
A zero tolerance policy sends a clear message, as it removes major offenders from school and allows administrators to act quickly with disciplinary consequences that are consistent, based on school policies. Teachers favor zero tolerance policies because they are clear guidelines of expectations and consequences that make students and parents accountability for the behavior of students. Administrators view zero tolerance policies as fast-acting interventions that project the message that major offenses are not tolerated in school under any circumstances. Students then have to suffer harsh consequences such as suspension, removal from school or even jail time.
Accountability for Actions
According to a Indiana Education Policy Center study, researchers indicate that the definition of zero tolerance has evolved over time to include major, mostly illegal offenses such as guns and drugs. School administrators use their discretion as to the offenses that will yield harsh consequences of zero tolerance. The essence of zero tolerance is that those students who receive less than firm, fair and consistent discipline end up being taught that there are no consequences for inappropriate or illegal behavior as long as it occurs within the grounds of those schools.
The school climate makes a difference in the learning environment. A chaotic environment decreases the learning because of the constant interruptions, and schools administrators find that zero tolerance is an effective means to maintaining a safe and disciplined learning environment. Beyond keeping children safe, teachers cannot teach and students cannot learn in a climate marked by chaos and disruption. Zero tolerance does not lend itself to offenses such as lack of school supplies, tardiness or having excessive absences. Schools usually have to work with students and parents on these offenses by allowing the school to deal with consequences on a case-by-case basis by using parent/teacher conferences, student counseling conferences or other interventions that deter these behaviors.
Parents may fear student safety in schools especially with the onset of widely publicized student bullying behavior or the presence of guns or drugs that may be brought into the school. The American Psychological Association reports that parents "overwhelmingly support the implementation of zero tolerance policies to ensure the safety of schools and students even feel safer knowing that these behaviors will be dealt with quickly in no uncertain terms."
Dr. Nesa Sasser has served as teacher, school counselor, principal, and college professor. She earned a BBA in accounting from Texas A&M University; an MS in counseling; and an Ed.D. in educational leadership both from Texas A&M Univeristy-Commerce. Her dissertation related to Teacher Quality and Alternative Certification in Texas.