Zero tolerance - American Education
A nonnegotiable policy at elementary or high schools whereby a student caught violating specific rules, regardless of any extenuating circumstances, is automatically suspended or expelled from school. Zero tolerance policies apply to student behavior 24 hours a day, seven days a week, thus ensuring punishment on Monday morning at school for a student involved in any confrontation with police over the weekend. The specific rules subject to zero tolerance vary from school to school and can extend across a broad range of offenses, from ordinary roughhousing and playground scraps to outright violence. The degree of punishment ranges from detention to two-year expulsion for carrying drugs or weapons to school. Many American public schools began instituting zero tolerance after passage of the SAFE SCHOOLS ACT OF 1994, which stipulates that schools must expel students carrying weapons or drugs or lose federal aid. Federal funds make up about 7% of all public school revenues in the United States. Although some schools were slow to extend the policy to less serious disciplinary problems, their reluctance all but disappeared in 1999 and 2000, after a disastrous epidemic of shootings by students in schools across the United States. On April 20, 1999, two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, shot and killed 12 students and a teacher and wounded almost two dozen others before killing themselves. A month later, a 15-year-old gunman wounded six students at a high school in Conyers, Georgia. In December, a Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, middle school student opened fire with a semiautomatic handgun and wounded five students, and, in February 2000, a first grader in a Michigan elementary school pulled out a gun and shot and killed a six-year-old girl in his classroom as his classmates and teacher watched in horror. A year later, in March 2001, two students at Santana High School, Santee, California, shot and killed two students and wounded 13 others.
Critics of zero tolerance argue that it eliminates faculty and administrator discretion to resolve childish disputes on-the-spot and thus teach children about conflict resolution, respect and trust of authority. Indeed, zero tolerance in many schools forbids teachers to resolve any physical confrontation with a lecture. Instead, they must file reports with administrators to permit uniform policies to run their course and deal specific punishments for specific offenses, regardless of extenuating circumstances. Just as many experts on adolescence, however, counterargue that youths must learn that unacceptable behavior means certain punishment. And they cite statistics showing that after zero tolerance became the rule in most schools, juvenile arrests for violent crime—murder, rape, robbery, and assault—plunged 42% to their lowest levels in 25 years, to just over 71,000. The number of juvenile arrests for murder plummeted nearly 64% from its peak, while forcible rape fell 28.5%, robberies 51% and aggravated assaults more than 31%. The number of arrests for weapons law violations fell more than 42%. Drug abuse was less tractable, however, falling only about 14%. Although heroin and cocaine use dropped more than 48%, use of synthetic narcotics and dangerous nonnarcotic drugs increased 85% and 16%, respectively. Marijuana use remained relatively unchanged during the same 25-year period, during which about 10 million juveniles were arrested annually for possession. Moreover, adolescent attitudes toward high-risk behavior also changed dramatically, with 40% of teenagers condemning peers who used drugs, compared with fewer than 20% a decade earlier.