Zero Tolerance a Contemporary Educational Ethics Issue

Contemporary Educational Ethics Issue
Educational leaders ought to apply personal, professional, and social discretion when encountering educational issues. This includes recognizing one’s substantive accountability as well as the procedure for managing accountability. Educational leaders should also recognize moral dilemmas in a situation and identify his or her responsibilities to the situation (Starratt, 2004). In recent years, due to an increase in school violence, there has been an increase in legislation and regulatory-policy regarding school violence in an attempt to establish consequences for inappropriate behavior by students. This agenda is known as zero tolerance. Consequently, educators may relinquish ethics in their problem solving and decision-making in response to discipline problems (Gorman & Pauken, 2003).

The following treatise will examine a contemporary educational issue in which this author’s personal beliefs and values conflict with legal and societal expectation. This treatise will summarize the situation, present the legal stance, and state the presumed societal stance. In addition, an outline of the expected consequences and benefits that these value systems propose, the conflict and decision or action that this author would take if an individual did not maintain an ethical compass, and the consequences and benefits in that situation. This treatise will also address aspects relating to this educational issue within this author’s educational institution.

In regard to student conduct and safety, educators and legislatures are imposing a zero tolerance attitude and philosophy in response to the threat of violence in schools. Educational institutions usually use parent conferences and detentions to manage these incidences; however, zero tolerance policies now manage these incidences through suspensions or police involvement. This shift is due to recent violent actions in educational settings over the past few years and the warrant of zero tolerance (Gorman & Pauken, 2003).

Legal stance
The zero tolerance policy refers to those policies that administer serious disciplinary action for all offenses, no matter how minor, in an attempt to consider all offenders equally (Fries & DeMitchell, 2007; Kajs, 2006; Miller, 2000). Zero tolerance policies began with federal and state drug enforcement agencies in the early 1980s and were well known across the country by 1988. The zero tolerance policies at this time prompted controversy then as they do now. In 1990, U. S. Customs Agency terminated the strict zero tolerance policies after the seizure of two research vehicles. At this time, educational institutions began implementing zero tolerance policies and by 1993, educational institutions across the country maintained zero tolerance policies (Gorman & Pauken, 2003; Henault, 2001).

The Gun-Free Schools Act in 1994 engendered a mandate for zero tolerance policies. The Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994 requires mandatory suspension for one year for the possession of a weapon on school grounds and students infringing this rule must enter the criminal or juvenile justice system (Stader, 2004; Miller, 2000). The zero tolerance policies extend now to include the Gun-Free Schools Act, as well as tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and actions that interrupt classes (Henault, 2001). In 2001, there was a recommendation to end zero tolerance policies for school discipline by the American Bar Association. The contention was that the zero tolerance policy has become a one-size fit all solution to all problems that educational institution face and has unfortunate consequences for many students (Henault, 2001; Miller, 2000).

Societal stance
Zero tolerance policies are under rising disapproval from parents, students, and teachers, as unjust, irrational, and arbitrary methods to administer punishment for inappropriate student conduct in educational institutions. Many question if zero tolerance policies essentially satisfy the purpose in which they intend to fulfill (Henault, 2001). Individuals who support zero tolerance policies contend that these standards aid in maintaining a safe environment in schools and parents and educators support this endeavor. Consequently, individuals who do not support zero tolerance policies allude that the suspension of students for various misconduct is producing critical and problematic results. Numerous students are lacking the education that the educational institutions provide, and they are learning unfavorable lessons by not being in the educational institution (Gorman & Pauken, 2003; Henault, 2001; Kajs, 2006).

Consequences and benefits
Several researchers contemplate that zero tolerance policies are developing a void between students and the educators who are allegedly using these policies to protect students. Educators who implement zero tolerance policies without consideration of circumstances, motivations, or a student’s history are signifying that the concept of innocent until proven guilty does not exist in educational institutions. Consequently, one student may bring a knife to school with the objective of hurting another individual, and another may bring a plastic knife to school with the purpose of spreading peanut butter on a sandwich; however, under zero tolerance policies, the treatment and discipline of both students is the same (Henault, 2001).

In addition, zero tolerance policy is criminalizing students. Educational institutions frequently file criminal charges against students for misconduct even if there no danger to the safety of others exists (Fries & DeMitchell, 2007). According to Henault (2001) in South Carolina a student brought a knife to school to cut her chicken at lunchtime, the knife was in her lunchbox. The police came to escort the student was escorted from the educational institution. In Mississippi, educators must report any student who employs aggravated assault regardless of severity or injury. Consequently, any fistfights or playground disputes are subject to police involvement (Henault, 2001).

When students are disciplined with suspension or police involvement for apparent innocent actions, their trust and revere for authority is in jeopardy. Students will likely come to have misgivings about a justice system with so little flexibility, and indeed some students will try to find a way around the system to evade getting in trouble. According to Henault (2001) this occurred in Virginia, a student talked a friend out of suicide and put the knife she intended to use in his locker; however, educators found the knife and the student was suspended for having a weapon on school grounds. The student thought that his friend might be disciplined instead of helped if he had turned the knife in. Outcomes like these are even more prone in educational institutions where zero tolerance polices permit no flexibility at all. These educational institutions are disapproved of for having policies, which permit no procedural due process for the decision of whether or not a student who has misconduct will be suspended. There have been some instances where students are disciplined for possessing a firearm even before a determination as to whether or not the firearm was planted on the student (Henault, 2001). Nonetheless, there are a few benefits to zero tolerance polices, a safe school free of danger, fear, and disruptive students, a policy with unambiguous and clearly stated rules; a student discipline code with consequences stated in advance and reliable application of those consequences (Gorman & Pauken, 2003).

Ethical Conflict and Author’s Action with no Ethnic Compass
The ethical conflict in this contemporary education issue is that zero tolerance policies lack common sense in the implementation of zero tolerance consequences. The misconduct that warrants suspensions today due to zero tolerance policies once was attributed to kids will be kids. The consequences to various student misconduct does not fit the crime and jeopardizes the development of confidence and trust with adults, especially those at school, and the development of a positive stance toward justice and equality in society (Henault, 2001). In addition, over the years there have been numerous occurrences of the one-size-fits-all attitude in educational institutions. The responses to these occurrences vary from astonishment and outrage to understanding and support, contingent upon which side of the concern individuals are on (Gorman & Pauken, 2003; Henault, 2001; Kajs, 2006).

The widely accepted policy of zero tolerance is bothersome to this author because every issue that occurs within educational institutions is not black and white. There are no clear cut answers to every situation or circumstance; without an ethical compass this would not be a problem and the consequences and benefits would be the same as previously noted.

Author’s Summary of Aspects Pertaining to this Situation Occurring in One’s Own Educational Institution
As an educational leader, if this issue arose in an educational institution this author would contemplate each occurrence separately and carefully weigh all aspects of the situation. This course of action would definitely be based upon personal values and ethical decision-making and be the best possible solution to create and maintain an ethical educational environment where students can learn (Gorman & Pauken, 2003; Denig, & Quinn, 2001). There is a need for regulations and procedures to insure safety in an educational institution; however, the zero tolerance policy in schools today is a fundamentally unfair policy. Any policy that considers different actions with comparable results is not only unfair, but also certain to fail. Educators should consider circumstances and motivations surrounding any misconduct before disciplinary action is taken (Anonymous, 2004; Henault, 2001).
In order for other educational leaders, parents, students, and the community to agree on this premise, one must assess and demonstrate to the educational community the effectiveness and fairness of zero tolerance policies (Anonymous, 2004) When the ideas are not accepted one must lead by example and demonstrate ethical decision making in circumstances regarding zero tolerance policies. In addition, one ought to allude to alternatives to inflexible policies within educational institutions. Misconduct policies definitely belong in educational institutions just not the strict zero tolerance policies that now exist (Henault, 2001; Denig, & Quinn, 2001).

As can be seen by the preceding treatise, there is a rising disproval of zero tolerance policies between students, parents, and educators. Zero tolerance should not mandate the only consequences for inappropriate student conduct. Educators ought to formulate and sustain an ethical educational environment where all students can learn (Gorman & Pauken, 2003; Kajs, 2006).

The strengthening of student discipline codes are essential; however, educators absorb themselves into an indiscriminate shift of district policy and administrative decision-making toward fulfilling contractual and legal obligations apart from the fulfillment of customary relationships between teachers, students, and parents. In a time of zero tolerance, educators must also contemplate their ethical role of establishing and maintaining a learning environment that permits students to develop into productive members of society (Gorman & Pauken, 2003). Unless educational institutions review zero tolerance policies and implement discretionary procedures more students will be subject to the discouraging vision of equal, as opposed to equitable, discipline for misconduct (Henault, 2001).


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