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Is the Zero Tolerance Policy in Schools Helping or Hurting?
by JACLYN CHELF

For years, schools have tried to maintain a balance between the “good” and “bad” kids. More often than not, the kids with the highest levels of achievement are the ones that stay in the classroom, while the students with behavioral issues are often the ones who act out forcing teachers to take disciplinary actions.

Schools First, part of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, began its “Suspensions Matters” public education campaign in March 2013 to gain awareness about recent over-reliance of school suspensions in New Orleans schools. It is important to think about the implications zero tolerance policies are taking on the children of our future.

Over the past several years schools have responded to the enormous responsibility of keeping their students safe by enforcing harsher classroom-level discipline. Many school districts and independent charters now handle student misbehavior by standing behind a zero tolerance policy.

Although teachers must be dedicated to the safety of their classroom as a whole, suspensions are often handed out as a consequence for minor offenses. By enforcing the zero tolerance policy on small misdemeanors, students who need the support and structure of the classroom are being given a pass.

The Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) found that:

  • Students who were suspended and/or expelled, particularly those who were repeatedly disciplined, were more likely to be held back a grade or to drop out than were students not involved in the disciplinary system
  • 31 percent of 10th graders who dropped out of school had been suspended
  • Two thirds of the 9th graders who went to prison had been suspended at least once in eighth grade

Visit the Schools First website for more information.


Jaclyn Chelf is a Digital and Social Media Intern at Prichard Communications. She is graduating in June, 2013 from the University of Oregon where she had been studying Journalism, Public Relations and Communication studies. She loves warm weather, the outdoors and her dog.