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					Zero Tolerance



Zero Tolerance Stephanie Faison, Kirsti Kimble, Sherie Love, Belinda McGuire, Jacklyn Roberts EDA 532 Grand Canyon University January 31, 2008

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Abstract Zero Tolerance is a controversial issue that administrators must understand and implement in their school. By observing various scenarios pertaining to the Zero Tolerance law, administrators can promote an action plan to abide by the laws while not hindering a student‟s academic success. This action plan must consider the law and factors involved with each situation. While expulsion is a necessary component of the law, repercussions and ethical implications of expulsion should be considered. Factors such as the student‟s options after the expulsion and what the expulsion policy says to the community should be considered in depth.

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Zero Tolerance The violence in today‟s schools has escalated to brutal proportions. This cruel violence, allowed to go unchecked, will permeate the educational environment, diminishing the overall chances of every student receiving a thorough and efficient education. By embracing the concept of zero tolerance, within the community and school, a better educational environment will be provided, thus creating an opportunity to achieve better academic performance. (Johnson, 1999). From a students‟ perspective, zero tolerance, as enforced in many schools today, is a policy that punishes the innocent for the crimes of the guilty. (Starr, 2002). Zero tolerance is an ineffective disciplinary means in school environments. It treats every offense the same, no matter who or when the commission of the act takes place. All are equal. In the case of the “bad kids” zero tolerance at first glance seems like it would be an effective policy. In realty, it will not hinder bad behavior in schools. The outcome would look more like students spending time plotting their schemes with a focus on not getting caught. Zero tolerance could also lead to more bullying and scapegoating because stakes are high. Wouldn‟t everyone love to blame their mistakes on someone else? In a zero tolerance system, this happens all of the time. The outcome is more time and energy from the staff and principals to uncover the reality of the situation. Often times mistakes will be made and the wrong kid will take the fall. The high stakes of zero tolerance have led to time consuming, expensive outcomes. In the Philadelphia City School District, numerous court cases have resulted from zero tolerance policies. Interestingly, “by a three to two vote, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court last week ruled „Act 88‟, the

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Pennsylvania law barring Philadelphia adjudicated delinquents from returning to regular public schools violates the due process clause of the Constitution.”(Philadelphia Public Record, 2005). It is true that schools sometimes violate their own policies just to get parents off of their backs. “Sometimes, it isn‟t enough to just be right. We need to be “right on” in our decisions about the lives of our students.”(Risher, 2003) Under recent zero tolerance initiatives, trivial forms of student misconduct, that were once handled informally by teachers and school administrators, are now more likely to result in police arrest and referral to juveniles or adult court. Since the mid 1990‟s, a growing number of schools have adopted zero tolerance policies under which students receive predetermined penalties for any offense, no matter how minor. Students have been expelled or suspended from school for sharing Midol, and Certs tablets, and for bringing nail clippers or scissors to school. (Johnson, 1999). There is no credible evidence that zero tolerance measures improve classroom management or the behavior of students. Such measures are not only ineffectual but also appear to have a negative impact on children of color. Research indicates that black children are more likely than white children to be expelled or suspended from school under zero tolerance. (CQ Researcher, 2000). While it is true that America needed to take strong action in the disturbing wake of the Columbine shootings, No Tolerance Laws are deemed to be controversial in whether such extreme consequences for every student, regardless of the extent of the crime, are necessary.

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In a public middle school in Birmingham, Alabama, Zero Tolerance laws are abided by regularly, by school officials. The results of actions taken in correlation with these laws have had both a positive and negative effect on the learning environment. The Zero Tolerance law has affected Baylor Middle School in numerous ways over the past decade. With a tougher discipline system, expulsions increased. Students were more likely to be expelled due to these regulations. Students were being expelled for petty crimes. The crimes were to most unworthy of two weeks suspension, much less expulsion. The students were very discouraged and felt the school system was unfair, resulting in poor behavior and declining grades. These issues seem to abound not only at this school, but schools across America. Each scenario related to Zero Tolerance in schools seemed to its own unique faults. In the Rocket Scientist Scenario (March 1999) the administrator needed to have a conference with the student and find out his intent. Zero Tolerance policy allows for interpretation by the administrator or administrative committee. Each offense is situational and should be analyzed by the administrative committee at the school. The student did not receive a chance to explain himself. According to the law of due process, the boy should have had the right to defend himself before such a harsh punishment was given to him. After a conference with the student and teachers, the administrative committee should decide on a punishment more fitting for the situation. In the Bang Bang, You‟re Dead Scenario, the administrator should have considered all factors. Factors in this case that needed to be analyzed was the age of the children and the intent. If the student was in elementary school, he or she probably looked at the gun as a toy to play with and not as a weapon. If the students were older,

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they would know better, but would expulsion really be necessary? In this case, the administrator or committee should have met with the students and their parents and discussed the regulations regarding Zero Tolerance. After analyzing the information gathered, the punishment given should fit the crime committed. When dealing with the situations discussed in the reading, a plan of action should be created and implemented in each situation that concerns the Zero Tolerance policy. Each scenario is different making it difficult to have a cookie cutter consequence for each offense. Also, in these controversial decisions, it is important to have a committee who can help the administrator put the evidence together and decide what punishment should be given to the student. When an incident occurs these following steps should be taken. First of all, the administrator should have a conference with the students and determine their intent. After talking with the students and gathering evidence, a Zero Tolerance committee should meet to analyze the situation and discuss a punishment that is appropriate for the crime. While Zero Tolerance was presented with the best of intentions of preventing school violence, administrators should not allow the act to hinder an individual‟s success in school. Punishment should be given to fit the crime committed by the student. Several pros and cons avail in each decision an administrator makes. The following action plan would allow for students to have somewhat of a mini trial in school before their punishment is decided on. This action would allow students to receive a punishment that fits the crime they have committed, hopefully lessening the discouragement of students who are unfairly reprimanded for a crime. This would also allow students to see school as a place of justice and fairness. A negative consequence

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that might occur would be the risk of the district writing the school up for not obeying the Zero Tolerance Laws in their school. Parents and the community might question the actions of the committee. Zero Tolerance is destined to create controversy due to the nature of the law, but administrators can prevent chaos by forming committees where evidence is examined and the punishment matches the crime committed. In evaluating the repercussions and ethical implications of expulsion in the school environment, the procedure is in alignment with the Local and State Boards of Education policies and procedures that are governed by law under the First Amendment. Therefore, the process for expulsion according to the Birmingham City Schools Code of Student Conduct is as follows: The normal disciplinary punishment for the commission of a Class III offense is removal from school for the reminder of the school year or, if the offense occurs within the last twenty school days of the school year, removal from school for the rest of the school year and the next school year. The principal (or designee), after reviewing the allegations, and evidence against a student and giving the student the opportunity to respond to the allegations (due process), is initially responsible for deciding that a Class III offense has been committed. Once that determination has been made, the principal (or designee) will give the student a suspension notice containing a written statement of the charges (and a statement of mitigating or extenuating circumstances, if any) and shall suspend the student to the Hearing Officer. The principal (or designee) shall mail a suspension notice to the parent(s) or guardian and notify the Director of Attendance. If the Hearing Officer decides, based on facts developed at the hearing, that the student committed a Class II offense, the student shall be subject to expulsion. If, however, there

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are mitigating or extenuating circumstances, the Hearing Officer shall separately state those circumstances and may consider them in deciding appropriate disciplinary action. Mitigating or extenuating circumstances include, but are not limited to, the absence of severe personal injury, the absence of extensive property damage, identified disabilities, including lack English proficiency, which may require the need to provide English as a Second Language services, interventions at the local school level, and no prior record of a Class III offense. All students who are expelled or otherwise removed from school must schedule a reinstatement conference with a Hearing Officer before he/she can be enrolled in any city school in the district. One of the Hearing Officer‟s options is to allow the student to attend an alternative school under the conditions set forth by the Board of Education in order to earn admittance to the local school. Should the parent(s) or guardian be offered this opportunity and decline it, the Hearing Officer may recommend to the Superintendent that the student be expelled from all city schools in the district.(2005) According to Essex (2008), “Expulsion is considered one of the more severe forms of discipline because it involves long-term separation from the school district or, in some instances, permanent separation” p. 88. Students, who have committed an offense serious enough to be expelled, still have a right to an equitable education. For these students several options exist. The option chosen depends on the severity of the offense, the age of the individual and their academic capacity. Our school district uses the PRC (pupil resource committee) hearings to evaluate the charges against students based on all available information. This information will be

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used to decide which type of placement and /or support services are needed to assure the student receives his/her education in the least restrictive environment. This team of individuals is usually made up of an administrator, social service workers, a health care professional and a teacher. Their job is also to make referrals to appropriate behavioral modification services as well as follow up on the progress being made. This is done before an expulsion hearing takes place. Every effort is made to alleviate the situation as possible, without the student having to be separated from school. Each public school district has the responsibility to assure each student is afforded an equitable education. For this reason, the following placements, in the order of least severe to most severe actions would be:

Behavior modification contract Transfer to another school in the district Placement in Twilight program (an educational program which starts at the close of the regular school day) Pathways Program (off site) Adult Evening School Students being left to roam the streets, is never the intent of the district. The district makes every effort to assure these students have options that will allow them to continue their academic pursuits. It is hoped that our policy communicates to the community that we are dedicated to securing an education for all its citizens, including those who commit offenses against the system. We, the district, understand that education is a strong deterrent to violence and apathy in communities. It is hoped that all students will become a productive member

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of society, adding to the economy, not taking away from it. If, with time, a student proves he/she is able to assimilate back into the general population of the school, they can request and receive reinstatement. The problem arises when the student become bitter, feeling they had been treated unfairly and for whatever reason, they have no one advocating for them at home. These students tend to refuse alternative methods of behavioral adjustments. They might then lash out at society by committing criminal acts that result in their incarceration. This student will become am liability to the state taxpayers instead of a contributor. When speaking to administrator, Rene Johnson, she stated “an expulsion is rarely, if ever done in our district” (personal statement). As we can all see, it really does not benefit the student or community to expel students. For this reason, a more appropriate setting is always sought out before expulsion, which is a last resort.

Problems arise when policies are written that restrict the discretion of school authority in administering punishment for policy offenses. Input from a variety of sources in the drafting of policies help ensure that mitigating circumstances are considered. Due to these circumstances, Zero Tolerance will continue to be a controversial issue in school settings.

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References Essex, N.L. (2005). School Law and the Public Schools (3rd ed.) New York: Pearson A and B. Court shakes school ‟no tolerance‟ policy. (2005)The Philadelphia Public Record. Retrieved on January 31, 2006 from CQ Researcher (2000). Zero Tolerance: Is mandatory punishment in schools unfair, Washington D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Green, R. (2005) Practicing the art of leadership: A problem based approach to implementing ISLLC standards. 2nd ed. Upper saddle river, NJ: Pearson Education Inc. Johnson, D. (1999)., Schools‟ new word: Zero Tolerance. New York Times, pp1 Risher, W. (2003). Assistant Principals keep the peace. The Commercial Appeal Starr. L., (2005). School issues: Stop tolerating zero tolerance. Retrieved on January 31, 2006 from

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