Impact of Zero Tolerance Policies on K-12 Education

Impact of Zero Tolerance Policies on K-12 Education

R. Neal McIntyre Jr.
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6246-7.ch016
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Since the mid-1990s, zero tolerance policies have been utilized in K-12 education as a means of addressing and deterring acts of violence on school grounds. While originally designed to address serious infractions, such as possession of weapons and drugs in schools, these policies have been expanded to include less serious offenses, such as fighting, absences, and other minor disturbances. Critics argue that this punitive approach has not only led to the inconsistent use and application of these policies but has also been used as a means of forcing lower performing students and minorities out of school by criminalizing minor acts thereby creating a school-to-prison pipeline. Research has identified that these policies are ineffective and has had a detrimental impact on kids both in school and beyond, yet they are still popular. This chapter examines these various issues and harmful consequences of zero tolerance while offering recommendations for schools to implement restorative justice practices, or a similar philosophy, in their response to wrongdoings by students.
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History Of Zero Tolerance Policies

Before being applied to public schools, zero tolerance policies were first developed in New York during the late 1960s and early 1970s by then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller to combat narcotics trafficking (Skiba & Knesting, 2001). These laws called for harsh, mandatory punishments for drug offenders, regardless of the actual quantity of the illegal substance, in order to deter would-be perpetrators (Drucker, 2002). Although there was opposition to these policies, other states began to pass similar laws in order to take a “get tough” approach towards drugs in an effort to crack down on the manufacturing, distribution, and possession of illegal substances in their jurisdictions. Despite the growing popularity of these type laws among the states, it took nearly 10 years after the passage of the Rockefeller law for similar policies to be adopted by the federal government to aid in its drug suppression efforts (Bell, 2015).

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