Zero Tolerance School Policies

  • Kelly Welch
  • Allison Ann Payne


Zero tolerance in schools is a philosophical approach to discipline that generally mandates predetermined punitive consequences—most commonly expulsion and suspension—for violations of particular school rules, regardless of circumstances or situational context (Stinchcomb et al. 2006; Teske 2011), with the apparent intent to deter and prevent undesirable behavior (APA Zero Tolerance Task Force 2008; Mallett 2016). In the USA, these policies can be traced to the federal Gun-Free School Act of 1994, which sought to restrict weapons in schools, but expanded to include non-weapon related and non-violent behaviors. Now used in most schools in all fifty USA states, this disciplinary orientation has also expanded to a number of additional countries, including Britain and Canada. While zero tolerance has been widely criticized for having unintended consequences, such as alarming disparities that negatively affect poor and minority students, original supporters advocated greater fairness toward students, more consistent discipline, and violence prevention (Gorman and Pauken 2003; Henault 2001). Research, however, has yet to produce any evidence that zero tolerance policies have achieved these objectives. In fact, ample evidence suggests wide-ranging harm to students, schools, and communities. In this chapter, we describe and evaluate these aspects of zero tolerance policies in schools and offer recommendations for productive and thoughtful disciplinary alternatives. Finally, we make some suggestions for future research that may enhance our understanding of the impact of zero tolerance in schools.


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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kelly Welch
    • 1
  • Allison Ann Payne
    • 1
  1. 1.Villanova UniversityVillanovaUSA

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