Critics of School Zero-Tolerance Policies Say Principals Need More Flexibility

Critics of drug and alcohol “zero-tolerance” policies imposed by school districts say principals need more flexibility in dealing with students who break the rules. They argue students’ intent or history should be taken into account.

In Shreveport, Louisiana, 14-year-old Lindsey Tanner was punished for offering a Midol pill to a fellow student, according to USA Today. Lindsay, who had no prior discipline issues, had to attend a six-week drug and alcohol awareness program and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She was also forced to attend an alternative school for the rest of eighth grade and part of ninth grade. She is one of thousands of students who are judged as harshly as more violent or regular offenders because of zero-tolerance policies, the newspaper reports.

These policies came about as the result of the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994, which required states that received federal funds to mandate that local school districts expel students who bring a weapon to school for a minimum of one year. School districts around the country have created their own interpretations of how to handle less severe offenses, ranging from bringing illegal drugs to school to possession of over-the-counter medication.

The newspaper notes 94 percent of American schools have zero-tolerance policies for weapons or firearms, 87 percent for alcohol, and 79 percent for violence or tobacco.

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    Matthew Teets

    January 30, 2014 at 12:51 PM

    We also need to make sure that schools are not using Zero tolerance to punish kids for being kids. To suspend a kid for having gum or candy in class is a groce misuse of zero tolerance.

    My nephew was suspended by teachers for little things he did as a kid. This should never happen. There needs to be a system of checks and balances within schools and districts to make sure zero tolerance policies don’t punish kids for being kids or for solving their own problems when the school authorities refuse to do so.

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    Isabel Burk

    December 5, 2011 at 3:43 PM

    Zero tolerance is a misnomer for poor policymaking. These policies are created by the schools themselves and not mandated by government! Don’t complain if you didn’t do the job right the first time–fix it and do it better. When crafting policies it is best to have a wide range of stakeholders at the table and a public hearing before the final modification. Before putting new policies in place, create and roleplay several scenarios to test how the policy will play out.

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