Coast School Superintendents Say Zero Tolerance Policy Works

Whenever violence breaks out at school, the immediate reaction from the public is that administrators should be tougher. When the Mississippi legislature passed the zero tolerance policy in 1994, it was designed to do just that.  (Click here to read what the code says.)

"It serves as a deterrent and it also, if they get caught, they get punished for it," said Harrison County School Superintendent Henry Arledge.

Originally, the zero tolerance policy was very strict, requiring immediate expulsion for any student caught with a weapon or drugs. Since then, the law has been amended, giving school districts more discretion.

Instead of automatic expulsion, most coast school districts first give students a hearing.

"It gets into all the details and they can call all their friends and witnesses and they can even have a lawyer at some of the hearings, if they choose," Arledge said.

Arledge and other superintendents say the policy has made school safer. And he says students like it because they feel secure when strict punishments are laid out.

"I don't think it's too strenuous," said Arledge. "I think it's fair. I think that school districts need to use common sense and have some temperance for students and make sure that we're giving them their due process and their right, but at the same time, if they're guilty then we'll punish them."

Some critics say the policy takes decision making out of the hands of teachers, but some superintendents say that's a good thing.

Teachers can focus on teaching and students can be sure they'll get a fair hearing before an impartial school board if they're accused.

Earlier this month, the American Bar Association announced that its asking school districts to re-evaluate the zero tolerance policy because it says a one-size-fits-all solution sometimes has ridiculous results.

Also, the former superintendent of schools in Pearl, Mississippi now says prayer is more important than a zero tolerance policy. William Dodson was superintendent in 1997 when Luke Woodham went on a shooting spree at Pearl High School.