Contemporary Issue Paper
Zero tolerance has become the latest contemporary educational issue for the Christian school leader. Zero tolerance policies mandate predetermined consequences for specific offenses. According to a government study, more than three quarters of all U.S. schools reported having zero tolerance policies (Holloway, 2002). Systematic guidelines of enforcing zero tolerance require educational leaders to impose a predetermined punishment, regardless of individual culpability or extenuating circumstances (Gorman & Pauken, 2003). Ethical decision making and the opportunity to apply Biblical principles have taken a back seat to reactive discipline by school leaders. Societal expectations have forced proactive educational leaders to become impulsive decision makers.
Zero tolerance is a policy that mandates predetermined and severe consequences for specific offenses in an attempt to consider all offenders equally (Fries & DeMitchell, 2007). Zero tolerance began as a Congressional initiative to control drugs, weapons, and violent behavior in the early 1980s and was well known across the country by 1988. It can be traced to the federal Gun Free Schools Act of 1994. The Gun Free Schools Act of 1994 requires states to have in effect a law mandating schools to suspend students for possessing a weapon on school grounds. Students violating this act are suspended for one school year and enter the juvenile justice system (Stader, 2004). The Gun Free Schools Act permits school superintendents to modify the expulsion requirement on a case by case basis allowing states to enact their own statutes. The zero tolerance policies in most states include the Gun Free Schools Act of 1994, as well as gang activity, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and even habitual profanity (Henault, 2001).
Educational leaders have to deal with real issues of violence in schools. School violence has become of the most pressing educational problems in the United States. Gang violence and high profile shootings across the nation cause concern within schools. Communities struggle to understand why these events take place and how they can be prevented. The overwhelming response to solve the issue of violence in schools is the increasing societal pressure to execute zero tolerance. Zero tolerance is driven by the educational philosophy, policies, and practices of school communities. Stakeholders expect schools to be a safe place for staff and for students. Stakeholders assume that a positive classroom environment, safe students, and school enjoyment are conditions necessary to create a positive climate where learning takes place. This assumption can be backed with research. A calm classroom environment, teachers’ management of disruptive behavior, and students’ view of school safety are factors that have been found to directly correlate with student achievement in the classroom (Ma & Willms, 2004). Safety and a feeling...