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Zero-Tolerance Policies Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: May 29th, 2021

Zero-tolerance policies (ZTPs) are widely used in the US (Welch & Payne, 2018). ZTPs establish particular consequences for specific violations that are applied in any situation regardless of mitigating circumstances or any other aspects of the context (Welch & Payne, 2018). Criticisms have been directed at ZTPs, suggesting that they violate the rights of students. However, the proponents of the approach reject this idea. A summary of the arguments in favor and against the statement that ZTP can violate students’ rights can be used to inform one’s perspective on the topic.

One of the main arguments for the idea that ZTPs violate students’ rights is connected to instances of discrimination. For example, African American girls are more likely to experience the consequences of ZTPs, especially suspension and expulsion, than white ones (Hines-Datiri & Carter Andrews, 2017). This phenomenon can be explained with the help of conflict theory, which highlights the problem of social inequality, and feminist theory, which focuses on the inequality of genders (Ferris & Stein, 2016; Ritzer & Stepnisky, 2017). Based on them, it can be assumed that the disparities which are present in modern society can affect ZTPs. In particular, they may result in students from disadvantaged groups being more likely to partake in activities that are subject to ZTPs or cause the people who are responsible for ZTP-related decisions to perceive the activities of some students more negatively.

To illustrate the second potential outcome, Hines-Datiri and Carter Andrews (2017) demonstrate that Black girls are viewed as more loud and aggressive than white ones, which is an attitude that incorporates the stereotypes related to both gender and race. As a result, the activities that are generally normal for children (for example, temper tantrums) may be perceived more negatively when Black girls are engaged in them, resulting in the above-described racial discrepancies. By not taking into account the context in such cases, ZTPs violate students’ right to be free from discrimination.

Furthermore, the nature of punishments in ZTPs, which are typically suspension or expulsion, may violate the right to education (Welch & Payne, 2018). Students who were subjected to ZTPs are evidenced to have increased risks of dropping out or underperforming, which may be another factor that explains the discrepancies between privileged and disadvantaged groups in obtaining an education (Hines-Datiri & Carter Andrews, 2017). It has also been suggested that associated punishments may be extremely severe (Mowen & Parker, 2017), which violates the right to justice and might be connected to various types of discrimination. For instance, Hines-Datiri and Carter Andrews (2017) cite cases in which five- and six-year-old Black girls who had temper tantrums were escorted out of their schools by police officers; one of them was handcuffed (p. 2). In summary, the problematic nature of ZTPs is supported by several arguments exemplifying their negative consequences for student rights, and they may be traced back to social inequality.

The key arguments against the idea that ZTPs violate students’ rights consist of the assertion that ZTPs protect students’ rights: those to safety and freedom from discrimination (Welch & Payne, 2018). Indeed, one of the arguments for ZTPs suggests that due to the lack of attention to context, ZTPs can result in more uniform decisions, which will prevent privileged students from being favored over disadvantaged ones. It should be pointed out that these outcomes are not observed: disadvantaged populations are disproportionately affected by ZTPs (Hines-Datiri & Carter Andrews, 2017), and the evidence to ZTPs succeeding in violence prevention is yet to be found (Welch & Payne, 2018). However, the reasoning behind these arguments is understandable.

In my view, ZTPs violate human rights: the fact that they require dismissing the context of misconduct suggests that they are not suited for the reality of a diverse community with multiply disadvantaged groups. Evidence indicates that ZTPs result in discrimination instead of protecting students from it, and the conflict and feminist theories can explicate this phenomenon. Thus, I think that more appropriate policies, especially preventive ones, can be established for the improved protection of students.


Ferris, K., & Stein, J. (2016). The real world (5th ed.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Hines-Datiri, D., & Carter Andrews, D. (2017). The effects of zero tolerance policies on black girls. Urban Education, 2017, 1-22. Web.

Mowen, T., & Parker, K. (2017). Minority threat and school security: Assessing the impact of Black and Hispanic student representation on school security measures. Security Journal, 30(2), 504-522. Web.

Ritzer, G., & Stepnisky, J. (2017). Sociological theory (10th ed.). New York, NY: SAGE Publications.

Welch, K., & Payne, A. A. (2018). Zero tolerance school policies. In J. Deakin, E. Taylor & A. Kupchik (Eds.), The Palgrave international handbook of school discipline, surveillance, and social control (pp. 215-234). Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

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