history the American public has become shocked by the amount of violence that is occurring within its school system. Students have brought guns to school and used them to kill their classmates. Teachers have been attacked in the halls and administrators have been accosted as they went from the building to the car and back again. Violence in the American school system is becoming a common occurrence by previous standards and as the nation watches in shock the demand for solutions becomes almost deafening. Several years ago when the attack occurred at Columbine the nation watched in horror while dead bodies of teens laid for days in the buildings and their parents were denied access to the carnage because of the ongoing investigation. Another act of school violence occurred in Arkansas when two middle school students opened fire on their classmates who responded to a false fire alarm. Aside from the nationally televised incidences of school violence the nation is grappling with violence in its school system on a daily basis somewhere in the country. Students who bring guns to schools pose a threat but there are other offenses that do not make the news, yet pose additional serious threats to the system. Students who bring knives, drugs, and alcohol to the school also pose a threat to the conducive education of those who are mandated by law to attend school. Many schools across the nation have answered the problem of school violence and drugs with something called a zero tolerance policy. Aero tolerance stands for the refusal to accept any behaviors within certain perimeters. These behaviors usually deal with violence, or illegal activity such as drugs or alcohol. Schools have instilled zero tolerance policies which state that any infraction of such policies will result in immediate severe punishment, including expulsion from all schools within the school district for a period not less than one year. Zero tolerance policies are relatively new and this research study was designed to determine from a student's stand point whether zero tolerance policies are successful in the goal to reduce serious school infractions. The study undertakes the task of surveying students. Students are on the inside track and presumably know more than administrators about what is being done in school and what is being brought to school. This study is designed to determine whether or not zero tolerance policies are really reversing the actions.
Throughout the last few years the media has focused a lot of attention on school violence and other serious school infractions in American public schools. The school shootings, the drug deals and the bullying of students have moved to the forefront of attention and the focus is now on reversing its increasing incidence. Many schools across the nation have developed and implemented something called zero tolerance policies. The zero tolerance policies are meant to dissuade students from committing infractions against the most serious school rules. Some of the things that may be included in a zero tolerance policy include guns, knives and other weapons as well as drug and alcohol offenses. Different districts may also incorporate other infractions that are included in the zero tolerance policies, including threats to teachers and threats to other students of grave bodily harm or death. Regardless of what each district includes in its zero tolerance policy the belief is the infractions being placed in the zero tolerance plan will discourage students from committing them because of the seriousness of the consequence, which usually includes a long expulsion.
Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 1998 / Table A1
No matter where you are, parents want their students to be safe and secure... that might even precede a quality education..." With drugs, gangs, and guns on the rise in many communities the threat of violence "weighs heavily on most principals' minds these days...Anyone who thinks they are not vulnerable is really naive." (Principal Michael Durso, Springbrook High School, as quoted in the Washingtonian Magazine, September 1997) (Safe, 1997).
This concern of parents and administrators has prompted zero tolerance policies throughout the nation. Determining their effectiveness is something that is just now becoming possible as the nation marks a several year anniversary of the existence of the policies.
It is important to understand whether or not the zero tolerance policies are effective in the reduction and prevention of acts of violence or crime. The decision to invest in training administrators how to implement zero tolerance as well as the sense of security the zero tolerance policies give the local communities underscore the need to find out if they are effective or not. While many administrators and teachers can point to statistics and records of students violating the policies and being removed from the population the continued incidences of school violence such as Columbine and others indicate that students are managing to slip past the zero tolerance restrictions and commit crimes. Students are often quoted in the media as knowing that the offender brought a gun to school or knowing exactly which student one could purchase drugs and knives from before the zero tolerance was ever enforced. Zero tolerance policies are designed to reduce the number of serious school infractions. Whether or not the policies are successful in their endeavor remains to be seen through the use of solid research.
CONTEXT OF RESEARCH
The context for the research was to determine on a national level how effective zero tolerance policies are from the standpoint of the students who must abide by them. The federal government set in motion a policy that was to dovetail with the thousands of zero tolerance policies in place throughout the nation.
The seventh goal of the National Education Goals states that by the year 2000, "all schools in America will be free of drugs and violence and the unauthorized presence of firearms and alcohol, and offer a disciplined environment that is conducive to learning (Safe, 1997)."
The importance of curbing and reducing school violence is a national issue and one that has garnered a good deal of attention in recent years (Safe, 1997). One recent study researched the number of incidences the schools have recorded when it comes to the zero tolerance and violence in their schools. The study used principals as participants however and that limits the purity of the research. Principals can only report on zero tolerance violations that they are aware of and have handled. A study to determine if the policy itself actually changes the behavior of those students who would have committed infractions in the past would be the true test of the policies. Using administrators who can only speak to the incidences that students were caught in only gives a partial picture. A study in which students can speak freely about their knowledge of infractions, both those that are discovered and those that are not discovered can provide deep insight into the effectiveness and necessity of zero tolerance policies in the school systems across the nation.
Previous studies have included many of the needed elements of research for the decision as to the effectiveness of the policies using limited participant knowledge. One such study involved several different data gatherings including (Safe, 1997):
The incidence of crime and violence that occurred in public schools during the 1996-97 academic year;
Principals' (or school disciplinarians') perceptions about the seriousness of a variety of discipline issues in their schools;
The types of disciplinary actions schools took against students for serious offenses; and The kinds of security measures and violence prevention programs that were in place in public schools.
The types of criminal incidents that schools were asked to report included murder, suicide, rape or other type of sexual battery, assault or fight with a weapon, robbery, assault or fight without a weapon, theft / larceny, and vandalism (Safe, 1997)." recent federal government study made it clear that conditions that threaten youth safety remain unacceptably high overall (Study: School violence down, but still too high). "
However another study, conducted by the Center for Disease Control concluded that there was a significant drop in school violence between 1991 and 1997 which happened to be during the design and growth of zero tolerance policies (Study: School violence down, but still too high). But the questions remain, is it really a reduction in the act, or is it a more careful population so they do not get caught and expelled. The research conducted thus far has been primarily performed by adults within the school system. It is time to do a study that asks the students, who are in the trenches, who are daily living side by side with the other students, how effective zero tolerance policies are.
GENERAL RESEARCH PROBLEM
This research is centered on the opinion of the students themselves. One of the most important aspects of any research study is who the participants are and why they were chosen. A selection of participants can skew the results of the study because of their bias or their limitations.…