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Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in the Schools?: An Evidentiary Review and Recommendations

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About the Course

A new course is available with updated content on this subject: 102032
APA’s governing body, the Council of Representatives, commissioned the Zero Tolerance Task Force to examine the research conducted to date on the effects zero tolerance policies have on children in schools. The task force reviewed the last 10 years of research to determine whether these policies have made schools safer without taking away students’ opportunity to learn; whether they incorporated children’s development as a factor in types of discipline administered; and whether educators referred juveniles to the justice system too often with costly consequences. Lastly, the review showed how families and communities are affected by these policies.

According to the report’s findings, schools are not any safer or more effective in disciplining children than before these zero tolerance policies were implemented in the mid 1980s. The research also shows that while school violence is a serious issue, violence in schools is “not out-of-control.”

There are strategies, according to the report findings, that can target disciplinary actions to specific misbehaviors without giving up school safety and mandating all students to the same punishment. Three levels of intervention are offered as alternatives to the current zero tolerance policies. Primary prevention strategies could target all children. Secondary strategies could target those students who may be at-risk for violence or disruption and tertiary strategies could target those students who have already been involved in disruptive or violent behavior. Initial reports of these strategies show reduced office referrals, school suspensions and expulsions and improved ratings on measures of school climate. The APA report does not recommend abandoning zero tolerance policies but rather their modification so they can actually accomplish their original intent, to make schools a safer, more secure environment for all students and teachers. Based on current research findings, the APA recommends the following changes to zero tolerance policies:

This course is based on the reading-based online article, Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in the Schools?: An Evidentiary Review and Recommendations created by American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force


American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force

Publication Date:

February 1, 2006

Course Material Author

American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force

APA's governing body, the Council of Representatives, commissioned the Zero Tolerance Task Force to examine the research conducted to date on the effects zero tolerance policies have on children in schools. The Task Force was Chaired by Cecil R. Reynolds, PhD, Texas A&M University, and included Jane Conoley, EdD, University of California at Santa Barbara; Enedina Garcia-Vazquez, PhD, New Mexico State University; Sandra Graham, PhD, University of California at Los Angeles; Peter Sheras, PhD, University of Virginia; and Russell Skiba, PhD, Indiana University. Staff support was provided by Rena Subotnik, Heidi Sickler, Ashley Edmiston, and Ron Palomares.

American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force authored the material only, and was not involved in creating this CE course. They are identified here for your own evaluation of the relevancy of the material this course is based on.

Course Creator

Recommended For:

This course is recommended for educators, parents, and health care professionals, especially psychologists, counselors, social workers, and nurses who seek knowledge about the effects of zero tolerance policies on school safety and discipline. It is appropriate for all levels of participants' knowledge.

Course Objectives:

After taking this course, you should be able to:

  1. Describe the research conducted to date on the effects zero tolerance policies have on children in schools.
  2. Describe the impact of zero tolerance policies on students of color and students with disabilities.
  3. Explain the extent to which zero tolerance policies are developmentally appropriate as a psychological intervention, taking into account the developmental level of children and youth.
  4. Describe the effect of zero tolerance policies on the relationship between education and the juvenile justice system.
  5. List and describe other disciplinary alternatives that could make a stronger contribution toward maintaining school safety or the integrity of the learning environment than zero tolerance policies, while keeping a greater number of students in school.
  6. Describe the history and development of zero tolerance policies in the schools.
  7. Summarize the research findings on the effectiveness of zero tolerance policies in the schools.
  8. Summarize the recommendations of the APA Zero Tolerance Task Force regarding zero tolerance policies in the schools.

Disclosure to Learners

Disclosure of Relevant Financial Relationships

CE Learning Systems adheres to the ACCME's Standards for Integrity and Independence in Accredited Continuing Medical Education. Any individuals in a position to control the content of a CE activity – including faculty, planners, reviewers, or others ― are required to disclose all relevant financial relationships with ineligible entities (formerly known as commercial interests).

The following relevant financial relationships have been disclosed by this activity's planners, faculty, and the reviewer:

Planners and Reviewers

The planners of this activity have reported that they have no relevant financial relationships.

Commercial support

There is no commercial support for this distance-learning course.

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Course Retired
Course Number 100988
4 CE credit hours
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  • Reading-Based Online
Exam Fee $23.88
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