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Do Zero Tolerance Laws Make Sense?

According to USA Today, students have been suspended or expelled for bringing Midol, Tylenol, Alka Seltzer, cough drops, Scope mouthwash, Certs, paper swords and paper guns, and for possessing rubber bands,
Zero tolerance laws have been implemented in 39 states. And they have an admirable purpose. They make students, parents, the community and staff feel more secure. However, they
have been attacked as inflexible, harsh and lacking in common sense.

I support zero tolerance for alcohol and drugs and for bringing a weapon to school. Zero-tolerance policies started began in 1994 after Congress required states to adopt laws that guaranteed one-year expulsions for any student who brought a firearm to school. All 50 states adopted such laws, which were required to receive federal funding. But many legislatures went further, expanding the definition of a weapon and further limiting the discretion of school administrators. Some added zero-tolerance policies for alcohol, cigarettes, illegal drugs, gangs, fighting, and cursing.

Even under zero tolerance, most students don’t get kicked out of school, even for the most serious offenses. According to a study in 1997 by the Department of Education, only 31% of students who brought a gun to school in 1995-96 were expelled. Forty-nine percent were suspended for five or more days, and 20% were transferred to alternative schools or programs. Only 18% of students committing a drug offense were expelled from schools with zero-tolerance policies.
A case is now being heard by the United States Supreme Court involves a (then) 13 year old student who brought a prescription ibuprofen pill to school. When school authorities could not find the drug she was strip searched ultimately having her remove her bra and panties.

Zero tolerance laws make sense when the penalties equal the infraction. There needs to be flexibility in enforcement and allowing the school administration some discretion in using their common sense.

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