[Get Answer] the zero tolerance policy is it effective

Introduction

     For the past thirty years or so, there has been tremendous national concern about school violence as the media has raised awareness on the subject (Johnson et. al., 2002).  This has led the federal government to pass laws that would make public schools across the nation safe and secure.  According to McCune (2008), “In 1994, Congress passed the Gun-Free Schools Act, bringing Zero Tolerance school policies to a national level.”  Hence, school boards began to develop zero tolerance policies that mandated “unequivocal suspensions or expulsions as consequences” for student offenses “involving real or threatened violence or the use or sale of alcohol and other drugs;” eventually “tobacco-related offenses and school disruption” were added to the list of offenses covered by such policies (McCune).

     In this paper, I will examine the effectiveness of zero tolerance policies in helping to maintain safe and secure campuses.  In particular, I would explore the Zero Tolerance Policy at the school where I teach, that is, Washington Preparatory High School, with the assumption that the results of my case study cannot be generalized across public schools in the United States even as they provide invaluable insights on appropriate and inappropriate applications of this policy around the nation.

A Case Study of Effectiveness of Zero Tolerance Policy

     The Zero Tolerance Policy at Washington Preparatory High School is as follows:

         In accordance with California State Education Code Section 48915(c), Washington Prep

         maintains a zero tolerance policy requiring mandatory suspension and recommendation for

         expulsion for students who:

              Possess, sell, or otherwise furnish a firearm

              Brandish a knife at another person

              Sell a controlled substance

              Commit or attempt to commit a sexual assault or sexual battery

              Possess an explosive

              In accordance with California State Education Code Section 48915(a) the

         Superintendent or Principal may determine consequences, including recommendation for

         suspension and/or expulsion for:

              Causing serious physical injury to another person, except in self-defense

              Possession of any knife or other dangerous object of no reasonable use to the student

              Unlawful possession of any controlled substance

              Robbery or extortion

              Washington Preparatory adheres to the Los Angeles Unified School District Board

         Policy Bulletin 1038 regarding bullying.  Per this policy bullying is defined as:

              Aggressive behavior that involves an imbalance of real or perceived physical or

         psychological power among those involved.  Typically, the behavior is repeated over time

         and includes the use of hurtful words and/or acts. (“Discipline Plan”)

The policy further states that “indicators of bullying behavior” may include, “but are not necessarily limited to” verbal, nonverbal, physical, and emotional (psychological) bullying, as well as cyber-bullying (“Discipline Plan”).

     After reviewing this policy, I decided to interview the Assistant Principal about discipline at Washington Preparatory High School, in addition to the Dean of Students on policy effectiveness.  I had developed a questionnaire to assist me in the interviewing process.  The day before the interviews, I delivered the questionnaire to both parties.

     On April 24, 2010, I interviewed the Assistant Principal first.  As I entered his office, he handed me the completed questionnaire.  I quickly read through his responses and began the interview.  One of the first points that he brought up was the controversy surrounding the zero tolerance policy, that is, schools tend to suspend students for minor infractions (Cauchon, 1999).  However, at Washington Preparatory High School the administration is perfectly aware of this problem; hence, school administrators are careful to only enforce the zero tolerance policy for offenses such as possession or use of a weapon, sale or use of illegal drugs, sexual assault, etc.  According to the Assistant Principal of Washington Preparatory High School, the administration bears in mind the kinds of infractions that the policy applies to, so therefore students are not suspended merely for bringing Midol or Advil to school.

     On his filled-out questionnaire, the Assistant Principal had mentioned that a student was once found with a loaded gun.  I asked him for a detailed account of how the policy was enforced in this case.  He proceeded to tell me that he had received a call that a student had a gun.  Hence, the school police, the school safety officers and administrators arrived on the scene.  The student was searched, and a loaded 357 magnum with hollow point bullets was found.  Immediately, the student was read his rights and arrested to be taken to the Lennox Sheriff Station.  He was transferred to the juvenile jail from there.  After six months in jail, the student returned to school with a parent for a conference.  He was suspended for 5 days and given an interim placement at a Community Day School (CDS) while waiting for an expulsion hearing.  This hearing takes place before the District Discipline Review Board where the school is given the opportunity to present its case.  In this case, the student was expelled from the Los Angeles Unified School District.

     I further asked the Assistant Principal how effective he believes the zero tolerance policy is at the school.  He stated that the zero tolerance policy has been very effective, and this can be proved by the fact that the number of suspensions has been reduced.  The suspension rate at Washington Preparatory High School for this school year was 7.4%, whereas the suspension rate at district level was 9.5%.  In other words, the zero tolerance policy at the school deters misbehavior as “the philosophy of zero tolerance” claims it should (“Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in the Schools,” 2008, 854).

     The next person I interviewed was the Dean of Students, who responded to the questionnaire quickly, after which I discussed the effectiveness of the zero tolerance policy with her.  The Dean was aware of the controversy surrounding the policy, but stated that the school had a handle on it.  She further stated that most of the cases involving zero tolerance policy at school concerned severe offenses such as possession of a weapon, sexual assault, sale and/or use of illegal drugs.  She mentioned a case of sexual assault, where the student was detained and removed from the school pending an investigation.  The student was eventually incarcerated.

     The Dean stated that intervention programs that are part of the discipline policy are a great support to the zero tolerance policy.  Many of the students are referred to intervention programs before their behaviors get out of line.  Opportunity Transfer Students in addition to most of those students who have been kicked out of their home schools for some criminal violation are similarly sent for counseling and participation in intervention programs when they come to the school.  In many of these cases, intervention counselors, school psychologists from the Wellness Center, probation officers, school police officers and safety officers work together to ensure that intervention programs are effective.  The Dean briefly mentioned the following intervention programs: Beyond the Bell, an after-school tutorial program; Impact, a program that has counselors and peer counselors to help students with psychological problems; Safe and Civil School program; and T.U.P.E or Tobacco Use and Prevention Education.

Zero Tolerance Policy: A Personal Perspective

     Having conducted a case study on zero tolerance policy at Washington Preparatory High School, I have come to believe that the school is effectively applying the policy to ensure safety and security, even if the effectiveness of zero tolerance policies around the nation is generally questioned.  After all, there is no scientific evidence that zero tolerance policies are effective (Skiba, 2000).  Had these policies been fairly used by all public schools in the United States, instead of targeting minority groups and students with disabilities, etc., perhaps they would not have been criticized as they are (Evenson, Justinger, Pelischek, & Schulz, 2009).  Moreover, if these policies had not been applied to misbehaviors that are not severe enough to call for suspensions or expulsions, they would appear as perfectly reasonable as they do at Washington Preparatory High School, where administrators insist on applying zero tolerance policy appropriately.

     Thus, instead of considering whether zero tolerance policy is effective around the nation, researchers should look at public schools individually applying this policy.  At Washington Preparatory High School, for example, the intervention programs on campus help to render the zero tolerance policy effective.  Furthermore, my school does not target minority groups or students with disabilities with this policy.  This strengthens the purpose of the policy.  So even if certain public schools are blamed for discrimination, examples of application of zero tolerance policy at Washington Preparatory High School reveal that the policy is not ineffective by any means.  Rather, if school administrators are aware of the controversies surrounding the policy and careful not to repeat the mistakes of other public schools, the zero tolerance policy can serve as a sure crime deterrent on campuses.

     So, although the results of this case study cannot be generalized to determine whether zero tolerance policies are effective or ineffective in public schools throughout the nation, they shed sufficient light on these policies for school administrators to deepen their understanding of the same.  In fact, I believe that Washington Preparatory High School can serve as a model for other public schools that have not thus far appropriately applied the zero tolerance policy.  As school administrators at Washington Preparatory High School are aware of cases of inappropriate application of this policy covered by the media, for example, unfair school expulsion of students possessing paper clips and organic cough drops – they are careful not to make the same mistakes (Skiba, 3).  Conversely, if the media covers schools such as Washington Preparatory High School that appropriately apply the zero tolerance policy, the effectiveness of this policy would ultimately cease to be questioned.  After all, just as certain real-life examples serve as deterrents, others serve as models.

References

Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in the Schools? – An Evidentiary Review and

Recommendations. (2008, Dec). American Psychologist. Retrieved May 5, 2010, from http://www.apa.org/pubs/info/reports/zero-tolerance.pdf.

Cauchon, D. (1999, Apr 13). Zero-tolerance policies lack flexibility. USA Today Education

News. Retrieved May 5, 2010, from http://www.usatoday.com/educate/ednews3.htm.

Discipline Plan. Washington Preparatory High School. Retrieved May 5, 2010, from

http://www.washingtonprep.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=53749&type=d&termREC_ID=&pREC_ID=72268&rn=7972520.

Evenson, A., Justinger, B., Pelischek, E., & Schulz, S. (2009, Jan/Feb). Zero Tolerance Policies

and the Public Schools: When Suspension is No Longer Effective. NASP Communique 37(5). Retrieved May 5, 2010, from http://www.nasponline.org/publications/cq/mocq375zerotolerance.aspx.

Johnson, L., Naumann, K., Steed, A., Hennessey, J., & Clark, J. T. (2002, Jan). The Prevalence

of School-Related Violence: An Overview of Statistical and Perceptual Data. Retrieved May 5, 2010, from http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:koQlNFjgvDMJ:www.arsafeschools.com/Files/Prevalence.doc+twenty+years+school+violence+increase&cd=10&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk.

Martin, R. C. (2001, Feb). Zero Tolerance Policy. American Bar Association. Retrieved May 5,

2010, from http://www.abanet.org/crimjust/juvjus/zerotolreport.html.

McCune, C. W. (2008, Nov 18). Schools’ Zero Tolerance Policies: Effective Deterrent or

Draconian Overreaction? Retrieved May 5, 2010, from http://www.newfoundations.com/PracEthics/McCune.html.

Skiba, R. J. (2000, Aug). Zero Tolerance, Zero Evidence: An Analysis of School Disciplinary

Practices. Indiana Education Policy Center. Retrieved May 5, 2010, from http://www.indiana.edu/~safeschl/ztze.pdf.

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