Zero Tolerance Strikes Again

When a high school volleyball captain is punished for doing the right thing by helping an intoxicated friend, professionals tasked with maintaining school and student safety including law enforcement need to questions our zero tolerance.


NASP outlines several alternatives to zero tolerance policies including effective solutions that involve families and community resources. They recommend violence prevention programs, social skills training and positive behavioral supports and early intervention strategies. In the same vein, Jordan established a threat assessment team that looks at each situation and determines a response based on the totality of the circumstances and the reality of actual threat. Both groups advocate communication and collaboration between all the parties involved in student well-being. School discipline historically fell into the academic realm, whereas currently it seems more in the juvenile justice realm. It’s time we put things back in perspective and move away from the “super predator” mentality that created the push towards harsher punishment with no discretion that exists within the schools.

As professionals, we need to move away from a cookie cutter approach to dealing with issues within our educational settings. Some situations warrant a rapid and harsh disciplinary response while others are more of a maturity issue that could be addressed with mentoring and strong adult support for growth. With so many schools having either school resource officers in their buildings and with many others having officers frequent the halls of their institutions, we play a large role in the environment. By facilitation and participating in joint task forces or teams, we can make a difference in the lives of children while still keeping school’s safe. NASP sums this up, “Although zero tolerance policies were developed to assure consistent and firm consequences for dangerous behaviors, broad application of these policies has resulted in a range of negative outcomes with few if any benefits to students or the school community.” Once again, we need to look at something that is not working, admit it, scrap it and come up with something better. We owe it to the kids.


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