Will Pearson 1
Zero Tolerance Shouldn’t Be Tolerated
In September of 1997 a nine year old boy handed out Certs Mints in class. He was subsequently suspended from school for possession and distribution of “look-alike” drugs and was interviewed by a police officer (Skiba, Peterson 1999). This is just one of many injustices the current zero tolerance policy has handed out since it began to be used in 1989. The origins of this policy speak loudly as to what its intent was and still is. On paper, in a legislative policy session, this piece of legislation looks extremely effective, but as with many other policies, when put into practice it turns into something else all together. Since the atrocious violence that occurred in Columbine, Colorado, the media has reported more and more on school disruption and violence inside those sacred halls. Anyone you ask, in any country in the world would say that they want their children to be able to go to school every day and feel safe. However our approach to safety is not cost effective and inhibits this countries ability to compete and succeed in a global economy. Ask a parent what they think zero tolerance is and you get; “Its zero tolerance”. Most people really don’t grasp that the term refers to policies that punish all offenses severely, no matter how minor (Skiba, Peterson 1999). To completely understand just what zero tolerance is and what it was originally used for we must journey back to the 1980’s. This was a big decade for drug prevention policy during the Reagan administration. The first use of the term was used by the U.S. Navy in 1983. The Navy “suspected” drug use among 40 servicemen and had them reassigned. There was no 2
mention of an investigation, trial, or hard facts. This was suspected drug use, and the Navy removed these sailors from duty and assigned them to somewhere else on suspicion alone. After bouncing around the anti-drug scene for much of the 1980’s, the education system picked up on the term and by late 1989 school districts in California and Kentucky implemented zero tolerance policies that called for the expulsion of kids suspected of possession of drugs or participation in gang-related activities (Skiba, Peterson 1999). By the early 1990’s school boards all over the country were adopting the latest craze “zero tolerance” policy, and in 1994 the government enacted federal legislation to mandate the policy on a national level with the Gun-Free Schools Act, and so the era of zero tolerance in schools was begun. We can all agree that violence, drugs and excessive disruptiveness along with a host of other scholastic inhibitors is unacceptable in schools. The majority of parents across the nation and the free world want the best for their children. They want their kids to have it better than they did, and they are right, children should be free to learn and pursue educational success in an environment that is safe. When viewed through this lens, the zero tolerance policy shows shimmering signs of hope. In fact, not all parts of this policy are ineffective. Students who participate in gang activity should most definitely be reprimanded and punished. Gang activity is a cancer upon the breast of future generations. It is a counter-culture that is not productive and does not contribute to the overall success of our society. Serious gang affiliated students should be removed and sent elsewhere. Drugs are another no nonsense issue in the American education system. Obviously not all drug offenders should be expelled from school, however serious dealers 3
and abusers should be. These are the people that the zero tolerance policy helps remove from a system that is trying to foster scholastic achievement. However the current policy in place has alienated many students who have made, for the lack of a better word, a stupid mistake. It has taught them that the system doesn’t...
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