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30 J.L. & Educ. 547 (2001)
Zero Tolerance in Schools

handle is hein.journals/jle30 and id is 557 raw text is: CHALK TALK*-
Zero Tolerance in Schools
Zero tolerance policies have come under increasing criticism of late from
parents, students, professors and agencies across the nation as arbitrary, unfair
and unreasonable methods to mete out punishment for various misbehaviors in
the nation's schools. This paper examines a recent study of zero tolerance and
questions whether the policies actually meet the goals they endeavor to reach.
The paper also examines a recent Tennessee case that questions the rationality
of zero tolerance policies in cases where students are unaware that they have
broken any rules.
The term zero tolerance (ZT) refers to those policies which deal out severe
punishment for all offenses, no matter how minor, ostensibly in an effort to
treat all offenders equally in the spirit of fairness and intolerance of rule-break-
ing.' The use of ZT policies began with federal and state drug enforcement
agencies in the early 1980s. By 1988, these programs had received national
attention, and Attorney General Edwin Meese allowed customs agents to seize
the boats, automobiles and passports of any persons crossing American borders
who were found with even trace amounts of drugs. The ZT craze spread quick-
ly and soon was being used in such diverse areas as racial intolerance, home-
lessness, sexual harassment and boom boxes.'
ZT policies then, as they do now, engendered an enormous amount of contro-
versy and occasionally yielded harsh results. The U.S. Customs Agency final-
ly halted its ZT policy in 1990 after its strict application of the rules led to a
seizure of two research vehicles. However, just as those ZT policies were being
phased out, schools around the country began phasing them in. By 1993 ZT
policies were being used by school boards across the country, and a national
mandate for these policies was issued by the 1994 Gun-Free Schools Act. This
Act requires a mandatory expulsion of one year for possession of a weapon on
campus and students breaking this rule are referred to either the criminal or
juvenile justice system. The ZT policies in schools now embrace not only the
*The Chalk Talk section is comprised of short articles by the staff of the Journal, pinpointing issues of
current interest in education law that, though they should be addressed, are not presently deserving of lengthy
1. Russ Skiba & Reece Peterson, The Dark Side of Zer Tolerance: Can Punishment Lead to Safe
Schools? 80 Pm DELTA KAPPAN 372, (1999).
2. See id.

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