Zero tolerance policies were originally a product of the War on Drugs, but were applied to the educational setting starting in the late 1980s (1, 2). The logic was that schools needed to ‘send a message’ that they would no longer tolerate guns, drugs, gang activity, and fighting. This lack of tolerance was displayed through the use of suspension and expulsion. The War on Drugs wasn’t the only thing that fueled the popularity of these ‘get tough’ school policies. The nation became anxious about school shootings as a result of highly publicized occurrences such as the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. However, this was more of an American fear than a reality as evidence shows that school crime rates were already decreasing before the application of zero tolerance school policies (1).
- Triplett, N. P., Allen, A., & Lewis, C. W. (2014). Zero tolerance, school shootings, and the post-Brown quest for equity in discipline policy: An examination of how urban minorities are punished for white suburban violence. The Journal of Negro Education, 83(3), 352-370.
- Skiba, R. J., & Losen, D. J. (2016). From reaction to prevention: Turning the page on school discipline. American Educator, 39(4), 4.