Zero tolerance

From Academic Kids

Zero tolerance is a strict approach to rule enforcement. It can be used as the basis of formal laws in a country or region, or in a smaller environment, such as a public school or the workplace. As the name suggests, zero tolerance policies allow for absolutely no levels of tolerance or compromise for violators of the law in question. Punishment under such policies is unwaveringly severe.



For example, if a school has a zero tolerance policy in regards to students carrying weapons, a student who brings a knife to school might be suspended instantly. Another such example would be the drug laws of nations such as Malaysia and Singapore, in which all drug dealers who are found guilty are executed.

In the workplace, many businesses have zero-tolerance policies for sexual harassment or downloading sexually explicit materials from the World Wide Web. Immediate suspension or termination is the most frequent consequence, even for the first offense. In some cases, an employee may have years of experience and have won many honors and commendations, only for it to come to a crashing end in a matter of moments because the employee made a seemingly innocent remark to a co-worker (e.g., "You look really nice today"). Most schools also have rules against sexual harassment and Internet misuse.

Many states also have "zero tolerance" laws that prohibit underage drinking, or driving with any alcohol in the bloodstream. Whereas states often consider adults legally intoxicated if they have a blood-alcohol content of .08, juveniles cannot have even a .01 BAC. The consequence is often loss of driving privileges for a certain time period.

The unintended consequence of zero tolerance policies is the lack of discretion given to administrators, employers or judges, as the case may be. With "non-zero tolerance", it is possible to consider circumstances that may alleviate some of the guilt. With zero tolerance these people are helpless, and in some cases must enforce laws and rules that are not just in a particular situation.

When applied in public schools, where few to no due process or appeals rights are given to students, zero tolerance policies can cause administrators to apply immediate and harsh punishment for even the most innocent of acts, which is a frequent criticism of the policy.

Public school examples of unintended consequences

In the United States, hundreds of students have been suspended or expelled from school for being in possession of over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin or for seemingly innocent activities such as wearing particular clothes or drawing figures of military tanks and airplanes in their notebooks. For example:

  • In Colorado Springs, a 6-year-old was suspended under the school's zero tolerance for drugs policy when the boy gave another student a cough drop.
  • In another Colorado case in Greeley, three boys faced expulsion under a zero tolerance for guns policy because they were seen playing with squirt guns.
  • In Canada, an 8 year-old boy was suspended from his elementary school for pointing a breaded chicken finger at a classmate and shouting "Bang!"[1] (
  • In Alabama, an honors high-school student was expelled just days before graduating for inadvertently leaving a rifle he used on a hunting trip in the back of his truck.
  • Another high school student was suspended days before graduation for having a butter knife in her car. It was inadvertently left there while helping her grandmother move. She did not know that the knife was in the car, but she was barred from participating in the school's graduation ceremony.

Other problems

While it is traditionally the responsibility of administrators to consider each violation of policy and act accordingly, zero tolerance policies remove this responsibility and the accountability that goes along with it. Some cynical critics say that this is the reason for these policies being implemented. Others note that zero tolerance is easy to say in a sound bite, making it seem like you're doing something when you may actually not be.

See also

External links

de:Nulltoleranzstrategie fr:Tolérance zéro sv:Nolltolerans


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