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  Zero Tolerance
   Strikes Again

 and the wall of silence just got stronger

Let's Stop the violence! 

    See how KEYS can help!!

Is it Zero Tolerance or No Idea What to Do?

Zero Tolerance polices don't work.  Zero Tolerance polices came about due to a lack of training and/or understand of how to determine a serious threat from a lower level threat.  We believed (incorrectly) that cracking down with Zero Tolerance was the answer to our lack of knowledge, instead of education and training in the discernment of student's behavior.   What it has left many principals and administrators with is a tree too ridged to bend in the wind of discernment and decision. 

Due to Zero-Tolerance polices, students are being kicked out of schools like never before. The number of suspensions jumped about 90 percent from 1998-1999 to 2000-2001. In one state, during the 2000-2001 school year, 90,559 children were suspended from school around that state, up from 57,626 two years earlier. The State Department of Education did not provide statistics for earlier years, but education experts said the numbers have never been higher.

Even kindergarteners haven't been spared. For that grade alone, again in the same state, the rate of suspensions/expulsions almost doubled over a two-year period, to 901 for the 2002-2003 school year, from 463 in 2001-2002, according to figures provided by a state's child advocate. The individual said they were suspended and expelled for such things as fighting, defiance, and temper tantrums. "I would have been suspended from kindergarten," she said.

The source of the stories below will remain unmentioned because I do not wish to personally insult anyone. The problem is actually larger than just one person or one school, so it is best to write this report as an "every school" issue.

14-year-old suspended for five days for drawing.A 14-year-old New Jersey schoolboy--whose dad and step-dad are in the military--was suspended for five days because he drew a ''patriotic'' stick figure of a U.S Marine blowing away a Taliban fighter, officials said yesterday.  ''He's been punished for the drawing,'' said  school superintendent.  ''We felt it was highly inappropriate, and we took it very seriously.''

Another 14 year-old student wrote a story, a fictional story, as students do around the country. In this particular story the protagonist falls asleep in a boring math class and dreams about shooting a teacher. When the bell rang, the dreaming student awoke, gathered books and papers, and went home.

A few months ago, a Hollywood producer wrote a story about a school shooting. He made it into a motion picture and made millions of dollars.

The 14 year-old student was suspended and is pending an expulsion hearing. Both of these individuals have constitutional protections for doing what they did. In addition to freedom of expression, the student is also mandated a free public education. So why is the Hollywood producer a literary hero and the student expelled? Zero Tolerance. 

  • Learn more about Zero Tolerance policies gone wrong

This particular school, as many around the country, has a "Zero Tolerance" policy that they wrongly believe makes their students safer. It actually does just the opposite.

This particular school, as many around the country, has a "Zero Tolerance" policy that they wrongly believe makes their students safer. It actually does just the opposite.

In every school shooting, other students knew it was going to happen before the bullets started flying. They did not tell. There is a "wall of silence" that exists between student and administration, child and adult. [Kids are the Keys]  Unfortunately, most adults forget about this wall as they pass from child to adult themselves. This wall is strengthened by every perceived stupid thing that adults do toward kids. Zero Tolerance fosters such actions. A few schools have been spared a devastating tragedy because students have been reassured that they will be treated well by adults and they reported potential shootings. They do not make the news as often as they should, but there have been numerous cases where the wall of silence was penetrated. Often it has been a School Resource Officer who has become trusted to whom kids felt at ease in telling these secrets. Follow-up search warrants verified the presence of guns, bomb materials and/or hit lists.


Zero Tolerance has never produced such trust in students. It is, in fact, a lazy management style that keeps administrators from having to think and be rational with each incident. The administrator can simply wave a magic wand, repeat the magic words "Zero Tolerance," and the problem goes away. There is no need to investigate; to consider the action; think of the child; or any other time consuming "leadership" type of action. No matter how many students populate a school, each one of them is an individual and deserves individualized treatment. Zero Tolerance reduces them to a herd. It prevents administrators from seeing each child. It does not and will not work.


Every school administrator should have no tolerance for certain dangerous or disruptive behaviors.  However, the Zero Tolerance policy in perception and practice has become no tolerance for the student rather than the unacceptable behavior. In the example that started this story, the student who engaged in writing about a violent topic would be given an assignment to write an essay about the impact of violence in literature on our society. If the writing had been a more specific threat about a specific teacher and a concrete plan to carry it out, the student would have been referred for a legal or mental health assessment or to an alternative school. In other words, the behavior would have been addressed as the problem without denying the studentís right to a education. It is through education and training in discernment which becomes the key to success.


Finally, how could an educated person believe that suspending or expelling a student solves any problem related to a planned violent act? Expelled and suspended kids have returned to school and committed violent acts against teachers, administrators and other students. If the student were truly plotting a crime, giving him or her days to spend at home alone without any supervision provides an ideal setting for violent thoughts to become plans and plans to become tragedy. An old expression says, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." If a student truly is harboring inappropriate violent thoughts, the school can better control that student as a student. Alternative Schools, School Based Day Treatment, Sanction Schools and other programs can be designed to help guide students to more socially acceptable behavior while still providing a good education and keeping everyone safe.


If your school is still struggling with a Zero Tolerance program, scrap it. The title itself is counter productive even if your program is not. If you need assistance in developing a student oriented disciplinary/safety policy, or you need help with your Alternative Learning Environment, contact Keys To Safer today.


What you do makes a difference!

  • To Learn How "Keys To Safer Schools" Can Help.

  • Learning what to look for - "Early Warning Signs"

  • Map of School Shootings

  • Learn about National Reports on Violence

  • Reported By:
    Frank G. Green
    Executive Director
    Keys To Safer

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