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The perception that the nation's schools are an increasingly dangerous place for children is widespread, despite a number of studies showing they are relatively safe places for children. This perception is often fueled by media coverage of high profile violent incidents. Parents fear the influence of gangs, drugs and the violence that comes along with them, and have demanded tough punishments be handed out to student offenders, often in the form of suspensions and expulsions.

Since being introduced nationally to schools with President Clinton's signing of the Safe and Gun Free Schools Act in 1994, zero tolerance has been viewed as a serious, no nonsense way to instill order onto schools. With the signing of the act, states in receipt of federal funds were to implement policies to expel, for no less than one year, students caught bringing guns to school. While the policy was initially enacted to deal with the presence of firearms in schools, it has since become a widespread and popular approach at the state and local level as a way to deal with other weapons, violence, alcohol, drugs and disruptive behavior.

Many at the school and state policy level are critical of the approach for being overly simplistic, not flexible enough to take in extenuating circumstances and for the disproportionately high number of minority and special education students disciplined through zero-tolerance policies.

 

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