Why Zero Tolerance Actually Decreases Reports
When students attend a school with a strict zero tolerance policy, they are aware of the extreme consequences of certain behaviors. And this can affect their willingness to report bullying incidences. This can be for several reasons:
The Punishment Is Too Harsh
It might be hard to believe that a bullied student would not tell in order to keep a bully at the school, but many bullied children are kind, sensitive kids who, even though being hurt themselves, are reluctant to hurt others.
The Fear of Retaliation
Suspension and expulsion are severe punishments and students know it. If a bully will be suspended or expelled for her actions, bullied kids might be hesitant to tell an adult. They may think it is their fault that the bully was suspended or expelled, and they may have an intense fear that the bully will come after them for revenge.
Zero tolerance was created in the late '80s-early '90s as a hard-line approach to drug enforcement. It was meant to deter drug trafficking and drug use by applying a set of predetermined consequences, often punishments of a severe nature, that were applied regardless of any mitigating circumstances (such as the level of seriousness of the violation or in what context the violation occurred).
The Fear of Being Blamed
Most students are savvy enough and have seen enough bullying scenarios to realize that the bully may try to turn the situation around and blame them. They may be afraid that they will be the one to get expelled.
An Adversarial School Climate
Students may feel that administrators enjoy carrying out zero tolerance harsh punishment and that the policy itself has an overtone of vindictiveness. This may strengthen the already strong code of silence that exists between students.
Zero tolerance policies can also affect teachers' willingness to report incidents of bullying. Teachers understand the full implications of removing students from the learning environment. And while reporting every incident and having every offender removed from their classroom might make their lives easier, teachers know that if they report one incident, they must report all, and that in every incident, regardless of the context or motivation, a harsh punishment will be imposed on the student. This rigid one-size-fits-all punishment can be at odds with teachers' educational philosophy.
The goal of a zero tolerance policy is to remove disruptive students in order to create a school climate that is more conducive to learning and safer for all remaining students. Despite the good intentions of this goal, the Zero Tolerance Task Force reports that, “data on a number of indicators of school climate have shown the opposite effect, that is, that schools with higher rates of school suspension and expulsion appear to have less satisfactory ratings of school climate, less satisfactory school governance structures, and to spend a disproportionate amount of time on disciplinary matters.” Clearly, zero tolerance policies and their effects, both positive and negative, must be re-examined and redefined.