Renner capstone

Running Head: Zero Tolerance’s Harmful Effects
Zero Tolerance’s Harmful Effects:
Its Origins, Misinterpretations, and Discriminatory Nature
Katherine Renner
Vanderbilt University
Running Head: Zero Tolerance’s Harmful Effects
Zero tolerance policies that mandate expulsion for a variety of student behaviors have
become extremely prevalent in almost all schools today. These policies originated as federal law
in the 1980s and transitioned into the school system in the early 1990s. In 1994, President
Clinton’s passage of the Gun-Free Schools Act mandated that schools expel students who bring
weapons to school for at least one year. This law was originally intended to be preventative, in
that it attempted to prevent violent or dangerous situations before they occurred. Additionally,
schools were supposed to implement zero tolerance policies along with preventative programs
such as peer counseling and mediation.
However, as states began to adopt zero tolerance policies, their interpretations added
additional offenses such as possession of drugs or alcohol as well as subjective behaviors such as
disrespect, disruptive behavior, or verbal abuse. This meant that students could be excluded from
school for a variety of offenses that did not necessarily pose a threat to anyone else’s safety.
Even within the same state, different school administers had varying levels of comprehension of
zero tolerance policies. Therefore, they interpreted these policies differently in their schools. The
different implementations of zero tolerance policies grew in the number of students they
impacted and contributed to the growth of exclusionary discipline, or any form of punishment
that removes the student from the learning environment, as a primary form of punishment.
As exclusionary discipline was applied to students for a variety of subjective behaviors,
students from racial minorities, lower socio-economic statuses, and students with lower records
of academic performance have been disproportionately punished in this manner. These students,
who are often already marginalized in schools, often come from a home culture that does not
Running Head: Zero Tolerance’s Harmful Effects
reflect the dominant culture of power within schools. Therefore, teachers and administrators may
misinterpret students’ actions and discipline events that do not merit this discipline, resulting in
social and academic alienation from school.
Keywords: zero tolerance, exclusionary or removal discipline, diverse learners, urban
Running Head: Zero Tolerance’s Harmful Effects
Safety in our schools is a primary concern and one that has received significant attention
over the past decades. In this capstone essay, I will explore how school administrators have
distorted the original intentions of zero tolerance policies, resulting in a disproportionately high
percentage of students from minority backgrounds, low socio-economic statuses, or with
previous records of academic underperformance being disciplined under these policies. I will
begin my essay with an analysis of the growth of zero tolerance policies as federal law and their
transition into school policy. The first section of my essay will focus on the original intentions of
zero tolerance as a preventative measure to increase safety in our schools and the social and
political factors that led to the prevalence of these policies. As individual states adopted zero
tolerance policies, these policies were often left up to the individual interpretation of school
administrators and disciplinarians. In a research study of different school leaders’ interpretations
of zero tolerance policies, Dunbar and Villarruel (2002) reflected that there were “as many
interpretations of [zero tolerance] policy as there were respondents [to the research study]” (p.
101). Varying interpretations and implementations of zero tolerance policies have distorted their
original intentions. Today, zero tolerance policies are applied to a multitude of student offenses
going far beyond the original offense of bringing a weapon to school. The most widely used
form of punishment in zero tolerance is removal discipline, such as suspension or expulsion.
Finally, I will analyze the impact that this misuse of discipline policies has on the academic and
social achievement of students from minority backgrounds or low socio-economic statuses most
significantly, resulting in a discipline gap that harms the social, emotional, and academic futures
of poor students and students of color.
In this paper, I will define zero tolerance policies as “school or district polic[ies] that
[mandate] predetermined consequence/s or punishments for specific offenses” (U.S. Dept. of
Running Head: Zero Tolerance’s Harmful Effects
Education, 1998). I will also use the term exclusionary discipline, or removal discipline, which is
any form of discipline that excludes the student in question from the learning environment.
Removal discipline includes office referrals that occur during a class, out of school suspension,
certain forms of in school suspension, and expulsion. Additionally, my essay will reference the
discipline gap, which is the disproportionality in the administration of discipline based on race,
socio-economic status, gender, and disability, with race and socio-economic status being the
most heavily researched and documented instances.
It is also necessary to state that certain offenses such as physically threatening or harming
another student on school property or knowingly bringing a weapon to school may merit the use
of removal discipline in the form of a zero-tolerance suspension or expulsion. Discipline in these
situations protects the safety of other school members and students. However, this essay will
focus on instances in which school administrators take zero tolerance policies such as these and
interpret them to mean that subjective offensives, such as disruption, are grounds for office
referrals or suspension.
This essay will draw from a research paper I completed in EDUC 3630: Learning,
Diversity, and Urban Studies Seminar I entitled “Removal Discipline and Culturally Responsive
Classroom Management.” In this paper, I focused on the ineffectiveness of removal discipline as
a form of punishment and the affect this form of discipline has on minority students. I grounded
my research for this paper in the theory that a culture of power, with the teachers and
administrators as the authority in this culture. Therefore, I concluded that cultural differences
between the school and its students cause teachers to misinterpret students’ actions and discipline
behaviors that are not necessarily misbehaviors. My previous paper also focused heavily on
culturally responsive classroom management as the alternative to unjust and unnecessary
Running Head: Zero Tolerance’s Harmful Effects
instances of removal discipline. In my capstone essay, I will draw primarily from the research
and literature that I reviewed concerning the ineffectiveness of removal discipline and
particularly its negative impact on students from minority or low socio-economic statuses.
However, in this capstone I will go beyond my previous work as I present a much deeper
analysis and understanding of the original intentions of zero tolerance policy and how these
policies have become distorted by individual administrators’ interpretations of them.
Political and Social Origins of Zero Tolerance
Current attempts to curb violence or reduce disciplinary issues within schools draw from
deep social and political roots. Social control and the use of discipline to gain power have guided
the development of schools throughout the twentieth century. Additionally, federal law since the
1980s has had a significant impact on the prevalence of zero tolerance policies in schools today.
Social Impetuses for Zero Tolerance
Educational research cites social control, acculturation, and the preparation of workers as
the original goals of schooling and connects these goals to today’s contemporary policies to fight
violence (Noguera, 1995). Noguera (1995) details how schools were “motivated by a
combination of benevolence related to child welfare, and fear related to the perceived threat of
crime and delinquency” to take on a greater custodial role, particularly in urban settings where
more schools believed that parents may be unable to adequately raise their children (p. 194). In
order to accomplish this goal, schools believed they must be highly orderly and disciplined.
Noguera (1995) combines the desire for social control with the use of discipline as a tool to
assert power. He writes that “violence in schools challenges the power and authority of school
Running Head: Zero Tolerance’s Harmful Effects
officials,” which means that schools that can control students are seen as more powerful and
successful (Noguera, 1995, p. 197). As school authority figures attempt to assert their power over
students, student engage in rational choices by choosing a path of action that appears most
rational to them “if examined in the context of the individual’s goals, the prohibitions and laws
of society, and the circumstances of the event” (Casella, 2005, p. 876). Zero tolerance policies
attempt to heighten the consequences of misbehaviors enough that students understand that
misbehavior is not a rational choice. Disciplinary moments in which a school official asserts his
authority over a student by reprimanding or punishing the student’s actions become displays of
power for the authority figure, but the student also has the power to make what he believes to be
the most rational choice for that circumstance.
Zero Tolerance as Federal Law
These philosophical and social considerations in the development of zero tolerance
policies in schools occurred simultaneously with the adoption of similar policies as federal law in
the United States. These policies were first seen officially in the 1980s. The U.S. Navy
implemented a zero tolerance policy in 1983 in response to drug charges among sailors. In 1986,
the term was coined by a U.S. attorney to create a program that impounded seacraft used in drug
trafficking. In 1988, Attorney General Edwin Meese ordered customs agents to seize vehicles
used to transport drugs across American borders and to try the carriers in federal court (Verduga
2002; Sughrue, 2003; Noguera, 1995).
Zero Tolerance in Schools
Running Head: Zero Tolerance’s Harmful Effects
Zero tolerance transitioned into school policy beginning in the late 1980s, when Orange
County, California, Louisville, Kentucky, and Yonkers, New York led the country by initiating
zero tolerance policies in their public school systems (Verduga, 2002). Concerns for school
safety escalated in the early 1990s, launched in part by President Bush’s America 2000, which
contained the goal of eliminating drugs and violence from American schools by 2000 (Robbins,
2005). 1994, President Clinton signed the Gun-Free Schools Act (GFSA), which mandated an
expulsion of one calendar year for the possession of a weapon, as well as the referral of the
student to a criminal or juvenile court (Verduga, 2002; Sughrue, 2003; Martinez, 2009).
Although GFSA allowed for the consideration of individual circumstances prior to expulsion,
this feature was lost in many states’ adoptions of this law (Findlay, 2008). This marked a turning
point in the growth of zero tolerance policies in schools, as the number of schools that used zero
tolerance policies jumped significantly at this time (Verduga 2002).
GFSA allowed for different interpretations of the law in different states. Some states
enacted the mandate exactly, while others chose to highlight certain features of it over others.
Many states took the opportunity to take a stronger stance on violence or disruption in schools by
expanding this law to include other student offenses, such as fights, possession of drugs or
alcohol, and verbal abuse (Sughrue, 2003). For example, Arizona’s interpretation required
students who had passed the age of compulsory school attendance to be expelled for chronic
absenteeism, while Colorado added robbery and assault to the list of offenses that could result in
expulsion (Sughrue, 2003). By the 1996-1997 school year, “94% of U.S. public schools enforced
zero tolerance policy in cases involving firearms and weapons, 88% for cases involving drugs,
87% for incidents involving alcohol use, and 79% for situations involving fights between
students” (Casella, 2005, p. 875).
Running Head: Zero Tolerance’s Harmful Effects
Higher Prevalence in Urban Schools
While most schools across the United States have implemented zero tolerance policies
over the past two decades, zero tolerance policies are more likely to be found in schools located
in urban settings, in schools with higher percentages of minority students, and in schools with
higher percentages of students on free or reduced lunches (Verdugo, 2002). Dunbar and
Villarruel (2002) found that the implementation of zero tolerance policies had little effect on how
rural administrators ran their schools, but that these policies impacted urban schools
significantly. Verdugo (2002) presents research data that shows the prevalence of different forms
of zero tolerance policies. Schools with higher percentages of minority students or students from
lower socio-economic statuses are more likely to zero tolerance policies for student offenses
including weapons, violence, alcohol, drugs, and tobacco (Verdugo, 2002). Additionally, these
schools are more likely to require school uniforms, have closed campus policies, and have a
police presence in the school (Verdugo, 2002). Urban areas have a higher concentration of
students from minority or low-socioeconomic status backgrounds, which results in a greater
likelihood of stringent zero tolerance policies in urban schools.
Original Intentions of Zero Tolerance
Zero tolerance policies today are seen often as unnecessarily severe or discriminatory.
This, however, is not the original intent. Zero tolerance policies are originally preventative
policies, as schools do not wait until a serious crime or dangerous situation occurs to discipline
the student (Casella, 2005). Additionally, zero tolerance is intended to be implemented along
with peer mediation, conflict resolution, counseling, or other violence prevention programs.
Running Head: Zero Tolerance’s Harmful Effects
Funding for these additional programs was provided by the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and
Communities Act of 1994 and the Safe Schools Act of 1994 (Casella, 2005). Casella (2005) cites
four preconditions that should be present in schools if zero tolerance policies will be successful,
as described by Blair: clear consequences and consistent application of punishment, collaborative
development of an alternative school system for expelled students, knowledge of the pitfalls and
benefits of zero tolerance in other states, and integration of other violence prevention and
conflict resolution programs” (p. 875). Supporters of zero tolerance school policies state that
when implemented correctly, zero tolerance does not need to be the unreasonable policy that
many critics claim it is.
Rationale For and Against Zero Tolerance Policies
Supporters of zero tolerance claim that zero tolerance policies have resulted in lower
rates of school violence (Sughrue, 2003). Additionally, supporters maintain that zero tolerance
policies, like any other policy, must be implemented correctly to be successful. Supporters would
state that instances in which zero tolerance policies were ineffective suggest that the additional
supports, such as counseling or peer mediation, were not in place (Casella, 2005). The use of a
whole school approach that includes these measures turns zero tolerance policies into a
preventative, rather than a reactive, policy to curb student violence in schools, which supporters
say is more effective.
Supporters of zero tolerance say that removing a potentially dangerous student from the
school protects the interests and safety of the broader school community (Dunbar and Villarruel,
2002). On the other hand, research shows that removing one student who may be disrupting a
class simply creates a space for another student to step up in his place (Noguera, 2003). This
Running Head: Zero Tolerance’s Harmful Effects
disagreement over the effectiveness of removal discipline highlights the difference between the
original zero tolerance policies that punished students who physically assaulted another student
or who brought weapon to school and current interpretations of zero tolerance that punish
students for a variety of more subjective reasons. Removing a student from school seems to be
more effective if that student had posed a physical threat rather than if that student had
supposedly created a disruption, for example.
Arguments against zero tolerance policies say that youth who are removed from school as
punishment are more likely to feel emotionally disconnected from their school and are less likely
to finish high school (Brown, 2007). School exclusion has been found to decrease regular
attendance and distrust in or poor relationships with school adults, in addition to academic
difficulties (Brown, 2007). Strong relationships with teachers and administrators are an
important piece of academic engagement, particularly for students who may be marginalized
from the dominant academic culture of the school. Unfortunately, these are the students who are
more likely to be suspended or expelled.
As the list of student offenses that would result in expulsion grew, Martinez (2009)
claims that zero tolerance policies became a “cop-out” for schools who found it challenging to
provide an education to certain students (p. 154). School administrators often turn to zero
tolerance policies because they provide swift answers to discipline problems. When school
administrators are faced with an busy schedules and increasing demands, “it is easy to fall into a
ready-made formulaic approach to discipline instead of taking the time necessary to investigate
situations and events, talking to individuals to gather information, and considering circumstances
and other factors to inform decisions about what is best for students” (Findlay, 2008, p. 122).
Running Head: Zero Tolerance’s Harmful Effects
Zero tolerance policies, with their prescriptive, ready-made punishments, are often much easier
for school administrators to implement than other discipline policies.
One of the most documented criticisms of zero tolerance policies, which will be
discussed in greater depth later in this essay, is the claim that zero tolerance policies are applied
disproportionally to students from minority backgrounds, particularly black and Latino students,
students from lower socio-economic statuses, and students with poor records of academic
performance. The higher prevalence of strict discipline measures in urban schools with students
from minority backgrounds follows what Dunbar and Villarruel (2002) call the “social
construction of ‘bad youth’” (p. 95). This mindset says that students in urban schools have a
greater likelihood of committing violent or dangerous acts and therefore require strict
supervision, discipline, and order.
Different Interpretations of Zero Tolerance Policies
The Gun-Free Schools Act allowed states to supplement or modify zero tolerance policies
as they desired. Although zero tolerance policies in each state are mandated at the state level,
there is still room for individual school administrators to interpret and implement the law in a
way that they believe best fits their management style or school context (Robbins, 2005; Dunbar
and Villarruel, 2002). While some states’ interpretations followed the Gun-Free Schools Act
closely, others varied greatly in punishable offenses, severity of the punishment, and additional
programs. As states amended this policy to fit their own needs, one of the most significant
differences was the addition of offenses that could result in expulsion beyond possession of a
weapon (Sughrue, 2003).
Running Head: Zero Tolerance’s Harmful Effects
As states began to adopt their own interpretations of zero tolerance laws, they expanded
these laws to include a multitude of punishable offenses. Many of the actions that fell under the
broader umbrella of zero tolerance began to include subjective actions such as disruption,
disrespect, or verbal abuse. However, these actions require an examination of the unique
circumstances and context surrounding each instance in order to best understand the student’s
intent and any background factors. Zero tolerance policies mandate certain punishments for
specific offenses, which does not leave much room for school administrators to consider
individual circumstances.
Districts within the same state did not even implement these policies uniformly, as
principals and teachers had different ideas of when and how zero tolerance policies should be
administered (Dunbar and Villarruel, 2002). Some administrators follow zero tolerance policies
strictly within their schools and find zero tolerance discipline to be the most beneficial and
easiest way to keep order, while other administrators adhere to a preventative and collaborative
program that includes peer mediation and counseling. Other administrators used removal
discipline less frequently, but still believed that suspension was an appropriate form of discipline
(Rausch and Skiba, 2006, as cited by Findlay, 2008). This difference in implementation can
partially be attributed to a wide variety of levels of comprehension of zero tolerance policies
among administrators (Dunbar and Villarruel, 2002). Dunbar and Villarruel (2002) found that
some administrators truly did not know how the policies were supposed to be carried out. “For
some administrators, there was confusion about what constituted a punishable offense, as
reflected by questions such as, "What if a toy gun is found in a student's backpack?" or "What
should be done to a student who tells another student "I'm gonna kill you' while they're playing?"
(Dunbar and Villarruel, 2002, p. 92). This confusion forced principals to use the fragmentary
Running Head: Zero Tolerance’s Harmful Effects
understanding they had of zero tolerance in their schools, resulting in drastic differences in
When school administrators approached discipline under these policies on a case-by-case
basis, they often held negative predetermined perceptions of the students. Bowditch (1993)
explored routine discipline practices that encouraged administrators and disciplinarians to “get
rid of” the “troublemakers” in the school. In this study, Bowditch examined the practices of a
high school’s disciplinarians. Many of the decisions the disciplinarians had to make concerned
classroom disruptions, which meant that the disciplinarians should allow for individual
circumstances and other factors that may have contributed to the student’s actions. However
“disciplinarians rarely questioned students about the details of their misbehavior
or the reasons behind them. Instead, after identifying the charge against the
student, they moved on to a series of questions about grades, attendance, previous
suspensions, and, in some instances, the student's year in school, age, or plans for
employment. A student's answers, rather than the particular circumstances of his
actions, identified the misconduct's meaning to the disciplinarians…They sought
to punish "types of students" more than "types of behavior." (Bowditch, 1993, p.
Disciplinarians were predisposed to believe that certain students were more likely of being
disruptive or dangerous in school. When these students were sent to the disciplinarians, the
disciplinarians often tried to push the student out of school through a transfer or by dropping the
student from the roster if he or she was over the age of compulsory attendance (Bowditch, 1993).
This phenomenon displays how policies that stemmed from zero tolerance policies to maintain
safety in schools fell victim to the individual interpretations of school administrators or
disciplinarians, who interpreted these policies as a way to target certain groups of students.
Bowditch (1993) observed that the characteristics disciplinarians used to judge a student to be a
“troublemaker” were the same characteristics often used to judge a student “at-risk” (p. 494).
Running Head: Zero Tolerance’s Harmful Effects
Impact on Student Groups
Critics of zero tolerance policies also say that actions such as these too closely resemble
actions taken by society to remove criminals. Noguera (2003) references Waquant (2000), who
described what he called “the deadly symbiosis between ghetto and prison” (p. 348). In Anyon’s
(1980) comparison of five schools that educated students from different social classes, he found
that the working-class school emphasized the teacher as the all-knowing authority in the
classroom. In this situation, any behavior that the teacher deems disruptive or disrespectful is
grounds for removal from the classroom. Students who are already marginalized within the
school system are often more likely to be perceived as disruptive because their actions and
attitudes do not mirror those of the school’s culture of power (Delpit, 1995).
Students from Racial Minorities
Removal discipline is administered unequally to students from different races, socioeconomic statuses, and ability levels. This disproportion is even more evident when in the
research on the use of removal discipline in the absence of a serious threat to safety within the
school (Brown, 2007; Skiba et al., 1997; Skiba, Michael, Nardo, & Peterson, 2000). Research
documents that white students are most frequently referred to the office for objective behaviors
such as smoking or leaving school without permission which are clear breaches of school policy
(Skiba et al., 2000). However, black students receive similar punishments for more subjective
behaviors, such as disrespect, excessive noise, threat, and loitering (Skiba et al., 2000). School
policies often speak vaguely of disruptive behaviors that could lead to student suspensions
(Vavrus and Cole, 2002). The decision to send a student to the office for disruptive or
disrespectful behavior generally rests solely on the teacher. Removal discipline allows the
Running Head: Zero Tolerance’s Harmful Effects
teacher or other school personnel who witness a behavior to make a judgment based on their own
personal culture and beliefs.
This subjectivity can be particularly harmful for black students (Monroe, 2006; Fenning
& Rose, 2007; Skiba et al., 2000; Skiba et al., 1997). Teachers and administrators represent the
culture of power in schools, which often differs from students’ home cultures. Students “who do
not possess the social capital that allows them to fit into the classroom norm” are more likely to
receive suspensions or other forms of removal discipline as a result of this difference in culture
(Fenning & Rose, 2007, p. 544). According to Delpit (1995), a culture of power exists in every
classroom and “success in institutions…is predicated upon acquisition of the culture of those
who are in power” (p. 25). Because the majority of teachers are middle-class, European
American females, this has become the culture of power within schools. It is difficult for
students who come from different cultural backgrounds outside of the culture of power to learn
the expectations determined by the culture of power.
Students from Lower Socio-Economic Statuses
The attitudes and actions of school administrators and teachers are different in schools
with higher percentages of minority students or students from low-socioeconomic status and in
schools with lower percentages of students from these populations. Anyon (1980) found that
schools with different populations of students approach education differently. Working-class
schools emphasized rote memorization and student compliance, while executive elite schools
valued the development of analytical and intellectual prowess (Anyon, 1980). In terms of
discipline, students from low-income families reported a greater number and variety of
punishments, as well as more severe punishments and harsher consequences for certain
Running Head: Zero Tolerance’s Harmful Effects
behaviors (Brantlinger, 1991; Verdugo, 2002). For example, in a research study comparing high
and low economic status students perceptions’ of school discipline, students from high-income
families mentioned office referrals, teacher reprimands, and in school suspension, while students
from low-income families mentioned these three punishments as well as suspension from school,
being told to wait in the hall, receiving extra work, staying after school, being set to court, and
being spanked (Brantlinger, 1991).
Students with Lower Academic Performance
Exclusion from school and the loss of instructional time has a negative impact on a
student’s academic achievement. Students who are excluded from school are often students who
may have the most difficulty making up for this lost time (Arcia, 2006). Arcia (2006) found that
students who received suspensions had lower reading scores prior to their suspension than their
peers and were less likely to improve their reading scores following their suspension. Length of
suspension is also related to academic performance. Students whose suspensions were longer
than ten days had lower reading scores prior to their suspensions that students receiving shorter
suspensions. Finally, students who receive suspensions are less likely to finish high school,
which automatically results in less instructional time and most likely to less academic
achievement (Arcia, 2006). Many schools may have policies that do not allow a student to makeup work that was assigned during a suspension, or schools may automatically reduce the grade of
a student who has been suspended (Brown, 2007). Additionally, access to alternative education
programs is limited and many students who have been expelled do not benefit from an
alternative school (Brown, 2007). Therefore, students with lower academic performance prior to
Running Head: Zero Tolerance’s Harmful Effects
their suspension are less likely to improve their performance after their suspension. Furthermore,
these students are more likely to be suspended than other students (Skiba et al., 1997).
The research points to numerous implications for the role that zero tolerance policies play
in schools. School administrators, policy-makers, and teachers on all levels should be made more
aware of what these policies entail. Many administrators are confused about what these policies
actually look like when enacted in schools, which leads to variation in how they use them.
Professional development should occur that describes in detail what zero tolerance is and how
schools should use it. Additionally, schools should have clearer definitions of what offenses will
lead to expulsion or suspension. These behaviors should be specific rather than general terms
such as disruptive behavior.
Discipline procedures should be re-evaluated to allow for a space where the student can
discuss the context of his actions with the disciplinarian. Instead of automatically applying
predetermined punishments to specific behaviors, the school administration should consider each
case on an individual basis. This may result in more work for the administration, but it will
create a fairer and more responsive discipline procedure. Schools should also introduce programs
that prevent problem behaviors from occurring such as peer mediation, conflict resolution, or
A significant implication for the teaching practice is the importance of developing a deep
understanding of culturally relevant pedagogy among teachers. In my work for EDUC 3630, I
focused heavily on how culturally responsive classroom management strategies can prevent the
exclusion of students from the learning environment. When teachers are more aware of students’
Running Head: Zero Tolerance’s Harmful Effects
cultures, they are less likely to interpret students’ behaviors as disruptive when that was not what
students intended. Culturally responsive knowledge benefits students from racial minorities or
lower socio-economic statuses significantly, as teachers develop a deeper understanding of and
relationship with these students. Teachers need to know how to appropriately manage behaviors
that may detract from learning and use removal discipline sparingly.
Despite its well-intentioned goals of preventing violence in schools, zero tolerance
policies today have changed into prescriptive punishments for often subjective student behaviors.
As schools interpret zero tolerance behaviors in different ways, exclusionary discipline becomes
the standard for a variety of student behaviors. Removing students from the learning experience
by office referrals, suspensions, and expulsions harms students academically and emotionally.
Students from racial minorities, lower socio-economic statuses, and students with poor records of
academic performance are more likely to be disciplined through exclusionary discipline. These
students tend to possess their own culture that is at odds with the dominant culture of power
within the schools. As a result, teachers and administrators do not understand student behaviors
and use inappropriate means to correct these behaviors. The research on this topic points to many
negative consequences of these discipline practices and the data shows that a discipline gap
exists between these students and the rest of their peers. To prevent this distortion of zero
tolerance policies, school administrators and teachers need to be better informed about how zero
tolerance policies should work and should be more willing to consider behaviors on a case by
case basis.
Running Head: Zero Tolerance’s Harmful Effects
Anyon, J. (1980). Social class and the hidden curriculum of work. Journal of Education 162(1),
Arcia, E. (2006). Achievement and enrollment status of suspended students: Outcomes in a large,
multicultural school district. Education and Urban Society 38(3), 359-369.
Bowditch, C. (1993). Getting rid of troublemakers: High school disciplinary procedures and the
production of dropouts. Social Problems 40(4), 493-509.
Brantlinger, E. (1991). Social class distinctions in students’ reports of problems and punishment
in school. Behavioral Disorders 17(1), 36-46.
Brown, T. (2007). Lost and turned out: Academic, social, and emotional experiences of students
excluded from school. Urban Education 42(5), 432-455.
Casella, R. (2005). Zero tolerance policy in schools: Rationale, consequences, and alternatives.
Teachers College Record 105(5), 872-892.
Delpit, L. (1995). The Silenced Dialogue. In Other people’s children: Cultural conflict in the
classroom. New York: The New Press. (pages 21-47).
Dunbar, C. and Villarruel, F. (2002). Urban school leaders and the implementation of zerotolerance policies: An examination of its implications. Peabody Journal of Education
77(1), 82-104.
Fenning, P. and Rose, J. (2007). Overrepresentation of African American students in
exclusionary discipline: The role of school policy. Urban Education 42(6), 536-559.
Findlay, N. (2008). Should there be zero tolerance for zero tolerance school discipline policies?
Education and Law Journal 18(2), 103-143.
Running Head: Zero Tolerance’s Harmful Effects
Martinez, S. (2009). A system gone beserk: How are zero tolerance policies really affecting
schools? Preventing School Failure 53(3) 153-157.
Monroe, C. (2006). Misbehavior or misinterpretation? Kappa Delta Pi Record 42(4), 161-165.
Noguera, P. (1995). Preventing and producing violence: A critical analysis of responses to school
violence. Harvard Educational Review 65(2), 189-212.
Robbins, C. (2005). Zero tolerance and the politics of racial injustice. The Journal of Negro
Education 74(1), 2-17.
Skiba, R. J., Michael, R. S., Nardo, A. C., & Peterson, R. L. (2000). The color of discipline:
Sources of racial and gender disproportionality in school punishment. Policy Research
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Skiba, R.J., Peterson, R.L., and Williams, T. (1997). Office referrals and suspension:
Disciplinary intervention in middle schools. Education and Treatment of Children 20(3),
Sughrue, J. (2003). Zero tolerance for children: Two wrongs do not make a right. Educational
Administration Quarterly 39(2), 238-258.
Vavrus, F. and Cole, K. (2002). “I didn’t do nothin’”: The discursive construction of school
suspension. The Urban Review 34(2), 87-111.
Verdugo, R. (2002). Race-ethnicity, social class, and zero tolerance policies: The cultural and
structural wars. Education and Urban Society 35(1), 50-75.