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JEA 41,1

The ethics of zero tolerance
Kevin Gorman
Sylvania Northview High School, Sylvania Public Schools, Sylvania, Ohio, USA, and


Patrick Pauken
Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, USA

Received May 2002 Revised September 2002 Accepted October 2002 Keywords Decision making, Ethics, Violence, Schools, Discipline, Legislation Abstract “Zero tolerance” has become the international “buzz word” of the secondary building administrator. As school violence has increased so have the legislative and regulatory policymaking mandates c a l l i n g for increased disciplinary consequences for inappropriate stud ent behavior. Ethical problem-solving and decision-making have taken a back seat to reactive discipline by school officials. Media publicity has forced proactive principals to become reactive impulsive decision-makers. In this article, Starratt’s three-part model for ethical school administration – encompassing the ethics of critique, justice, and care – is applied to a fictional scenario and the ethical dilemma that evolves. Recommendations for practice are offered in a proposed resolution of the dilemma within the context of a central conclusion: if the school administrator of the twenty- first century is to build and maintain an ethical educational setting where all students can learn, zero tolerance cannot dictate the only outcomes for inappropriate student behavior.

Journal of Educational Administration Vol. 41 No. 1, 2003 pp. 24-36 q MCB UP Limited 0957-8234 DOI 10.1108/09578230310457411

Introduction Safety and accountability have become the educational “buzz” words of the new m i l l e n n i u m ( Houston, 2000). It seems there are many system e d u c a t i on advocates and critics are more comfortable in a world of standardization. Within the realm of academic and fiscal accountability, the demand for standardization and a return to “the basics” has resulted in elaborate state and federal systems of high-stakes testing, where the promotion and graduation of students and the employment of teachers and administrators is often contingent on the passage of specific exams (Pauken et al., 2001). Within the realm of student safety, legislatures and school systems are taking a zero tolerance philosophy and attitude toward the threat of violence in the schools. Threats or comments that would have been handled with parent conferences, detentions, or demerits five years ago are now reason for suspension, expulsion, or police intervention (Dodd, 2000; Kennedy, 1999). Perhaps the recent shift to zero tolerance is warranted after the string of news-making and nerve-shaking violent events on school campuses over the past few years. Compliance with accountability laws and enforcement of student discipline codes are important, for sure. But school leaders run a great risk by engaging in a wholesale shift of board policy and administrative decision-making toward satisfaction of contractual and legal relationships and away from the fulfillment of traditional and personal teacher-to-student relationships. Consequently, we argue in this article that, even in an age of zero tolerance

and seemingly infinite risk, a school leader must never forget his or her true ethical role – one of creation, maintenance, and respect for a learning environment that allows students to mature into successful productive citizens in a larger democratic society (Strike, 1991). This philosophy change within the schools from traditional curriculum and teaching to testing and punishment brings about an important ethical question. How should moral decision-making and personal values become a part of the development and execution of school policy and the school discipline code of conduct? This question and the resulting difficult ethical problems are now a significant portion of an administrator’s daily repertoire of responsibilities. Starratt (1991) offers us a framework for addressing this question – through the ethics of critique, justice, and care. He argues that administrative decisionmaking must move toward “an inclusion of human factors and moral development that over the years has been neglected or forgotten” (Starratt, 1991, p. 186). All administrators must look at what will assist each individual student to be successful at school, without taking away overall school safety and individual rights from everyone else in the school. These added pressures make an administrator’s position even more difficult as the key problemsolving leader within the school building. Zero tolerance, exaggeration and disciplinary discretion A brief overview of the origin of zero tolerance philosophy is necessary in order to understand the impact that this viewpoint has on school decision-making. According to Skiba and Peterson (1999b), the term “zero tolerance” originated in the federal drug enforcement policies of the 1980s. But after a few controversial harsh punishments, the United States Customs Service halted the implementation of its zero tolerance policy. Despite this change at the federal level, by the late 1980s and early 1990s, the zero tolerance mentality had shifted to the schools (Insley, 2001; Skiba and Peterson, 1999b). In 1993, for example, the director of San Diego public schools’ campus police proposed a zero tolerance policy to eliminate weapons from the school system after two students were murdered. This proposal insisted that any student who brought a weapon to school would be arrested and expelled (Vail, 1995). In 1994, the federal government joined the zero tolerance action with the Gun-Free Schools Act (1994). Under the Act, states must enact legislation that requires local boards of education to expel, for at least one year, any student who brings a weapon to school. The Act defined “weapon” as any firearm. Noncompliance with the requirements of the Act subjected states to reduction or elimination of federal funding. By 1995, all 50 states came into compliance with the Gun-Free Schools Act (Insley, 2001; and Pipho, 1998). Many states have expanded the definition of the term “weapon”. For example, the Ohio General Assembly enacted provisions requiring one-year expulsions for students who bring guns or knives to school or to off-campus school-sponsored activities. In

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1999, Ohio amended the one-year expulsion law to include acts of “serious physical harm” (Ohio Revised Code sec. 3313.66(B)). Ohio is certainly not alone. Insley (2001) provides a comprehensive citation list of states’ responses to the Gun-Free Schools Act. While one of the most often-cited criticisms of the zero tolerance philosophy is the lack of administrative discretion these policies afford (e.g. Essex, 2001; Henault, 2001), there are some provisions in the Gun-Free Schools Act that restore school officials’ disciplinary discretion. First, the Act requires the state to enact a provision permitting the superintendent to modify the one-year expulsion requirement on a case-by-case basis. Second, each state, through its statutory provisions, may allow local boards of education to offer continued educational services in an alternate setting to any student who is expelled under the Act (20 U.S.C. sec. 8921(b)(2)). Despite these federal provisions and their corresponding state counterparts, the majority sentiment and the resulting administrative practice seem to reflect the notion that the Gun-Free Schools Act and schools’ zero tolerance policies eliminate discretion in school discipline (e.g. Essex, 2001; Henault, 2001; Insley, 2001). To this end, the primary advantages of zero tolerance – holding wrongdoers responsible for their own actions and keeping consistent in the application of formula-based discipline codes – are, in effect, disadvantages. This is not to say that responsibility for misbehavior and consistent application of legitimate rules in the scope of legitimate leadership authority is such a negative idea. Disciplinary exclusion of students who have caused great damage to persons or property is often warranted. Those students who commit criminal acts against classmates, staff, and school visitors during school hours or school events ought to be punished. The trouble is not typically with the application of zero tolerance against the serious infractions. “Over time, however, increasingly broad interpretations of zero tolerance have resulted in a near epidemic of suspensions and expulsions for seemingly trivial events” (Skiba and Peterson, 1999b, p. 26). The trouble arises in events like the following: a six-year-old is suspended for kissing a classmate, a seventh-grader is suspended for offering a cough drop to a friend at school; a second-grader is sent to an alternative school for a month after she brings her grandfather’s pocket watch to show-and-tell (the watch had a one-inch pocket-knife attached); and a 13-year-old student is arrested and spends five days in jail awaiting a hearing for writing a violent story. Further trouble arises when the school administrators and board members who support such disciplinary actions cite “zero tolerance” as their defense, as though “the policy made them do it”. The result is damaging for boards of education, administrators, teachers, staff, parents, and students. The zero tolerance mentality does not allow school officials much flexibility in making decisions within the spirit that honest school discipline intends – decisions that benefit the individual student and benefit the entire student body and school community.

Most people would argue confidently that, in many circumstances, one size does not fit all. But in the world of zero tolerance, school officials have either attempted to defend such a stance or have failed to demand the return of their disciplinary authority. What is the ethical educator to do when faced with a dangerous dilemma, limited discretion, a nervous and edgy constituency, and a zero tolerance policy? School dilemma The following fictitious story mimics many of the scenarios that are becoming common day experiences in schools across the country, including white, middle class, suburban classrooms:
A moral problem arises when a look-alike toy gun meant merely as a plaything is interpreted by a classroom teacher as a weapon to do harm. The problem becomes even more complicated when the owner of the toy is a senior, five weeks shy of graduation, who is merely looking at the toy during a class period. The instructor misinterprets the scene, believes the gun to be real, takes the toy gun, places it on her desk, and continues teaching until the end of the period. At the end of the class, the instructor takes the toy gun and the student to the office as a possible predator, and demands discipline. The instructor also contacts her union representative to ensure her recommendation is implemented.

The ethics of zero tolerance


School violence and the new demographic Before addressing administrative solutions to the above scenario, it is important to present the core decision-making dilemma presented by cases such as these. On the one hand, a school principal must come to grips with unsafe harmful acts on school premises and with what the public and the media perceive to be skyrocketing violence in schools. The administrator is expected to respond swiftly, firmly, and decisively. On the other hand, the school leader must also recognize that to be an ethical leader, he or she must respond calmly, carefully, and compassionately. And if there is a third hand, the school leader must also address larger more fundamental issues of uninformed decisionmaking, diversity, and social justice. The number of students and teachers killed violently in or near schools, including homicides and accidental deaths has not significantly increased in recent years (Skiba and Peterson, 1999a). In fact, according to some reports, the rates have decreased (e.g. Lecher, 2001). Why then all of the publicity? Crimes were committed in school before the Gun-Free Schools Act. Perhaps it is because those acts of violence did not occur in white suburban America. Perhaps the administration did not take note or find it newsworthy. Most of the shootings or acts of violence in the schools that the media have been reporting have occurred in white, middle class suburban neighborhoods (Daniel and Pauken, 2000). This statistic appears to shock the public, and encourage a zero tolerance attitude by administrators in suburban school systems. So, what is the role of the knowledgeable and ethical leader in such a situation? Should he or she dare to tell students and parents that the violence reported is not as

JEA 41,1


severe or pervasive as they think it is? Should he or she, instead, favor a philosophy of zero tolerance to calm the public and to demonstrate authority and control over the situation? When discussing ethics, it is essential that all ethnicities including minorities are taken into consideration when deciding what zero tolerance means to schools. Perhaps the problem is not too much attention today, but lack of attention in years past. Schools were originally established not merely to teach the three Rs of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also to develop bright, strong citizens who would be contributing members of society (Strike et al., 1998). As schools have been instructed by departments of education to restructure and reform, administrators have been coerced into redefining a school’s educational responsibilities and purpose. In response to school violence and other unsafe acts, should this new definition give a more prominent place to zero tolerance in schools? Ethically, how will this philosophy of zero tolerance thrive with Strike’s concept of education as preparation for life and work in a democratic society? The ethics of critique, justice and care Starratt (1991) believes that a tapestry needs to be developed of ethical perspectives within the schools: the ethic of critique, the ethic of justice, and the ethic of care. In this model, the practice of ethical school administration becomes a balancing act. The emphasis placed on each of the particular themes of critique, justice, and care may vary from situation to situation; however, an appropriate balance among the three must exist. Critique According to Starratt (1991), the primary questions to ask within an ethic of critique are the following: Who controls? Who defines? What legitimates? Who benefits from the current relationships? What groups dominate this social arrangement? Proponents of the ethic of critique argue, not too debatably, that organizations are in a constant state of change. Under this argument, without constant and consistent evaluation of organizational practices, the organization as a whole will turn, perhaps unwittingly, to a pattern of unethical decisions and unethical consequences. Unquestionably, the move toward zero tolerance is a significant change in educational administration, and the argument that students and staff should take appropriate responsibility for their actions is a good one. But without a critical analysis, this policy shift could be unethical. Within the ethic of critique, an ethical leader or organizational member criticizes the organization as “structurally ineffective”. The criticism is against excessive bureaucracy, the contractual mind-set, administrative impersonality, and an overly technical approach to teaching. Adding zero tolerance to the discussion yields the following plausible critique. First, a system of zero tolerance is harmful to the administration of education because it is arguably

unresponsive to human and social rights of individual students in individual situations. Zero tolerance requires a rather formulaic application of disciplinary penalties to infractions with little or no regard to the individuals or circumstances involved (Cartledge et al., 2001; Skiba and Peterson, 1999a). As a result, we see examples of student cold medicine equated to drug use, plastic butter knives treated as dangerous weapons, and isolated student scuffles leading to long-term expulsions. Second, zero tolerance tends to strip school administrators of their discretionary authority in student discipline situations. While the ethic of critique would argue fiercely against a system that gives too much discretion to one role or position in the organization, a school policy shift that takes away all or most of the decision-making authority otherwise granted to building-level administrators is similarly unethical. It is difficult for a person to lead an organization of other people with only an impersonal, unbending, and unchanging system as a guide. Sometimes the harshest and most politically dangerous critics of zero tolerance come from outside the school setting. As more and more violence erupts in the suburban schools, more and more press is given to the zero tolerance philosophy. The media, of course, have been quick to pick up stories in which the penalty appeared more serious than the infraction. In Colorado, two incidents brought this to public attention. One involved an elementary student who brought a paring knife to school in a lunch box to be used to cut an apple. The case went to the school board for automatic expulsion before the punishment was modified. Another incident involved a kindergarten student who brought a loaded pistol to school. District follow-up revealed that the parents did not possess a weapon, and that a relative/house guest brought it into their home without their knowledge. In both cases, the media ran numerous stories on each incident (Pipho, 1998, pp. 725-6).
“You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t ” is a phrase used all too frequently by school administration: damned if you zealously enforce zero tolerance, and damned if you’re seen as too lax on the tolerance of weapon violations at your school (Martin, 2000, pp. 39-41).

The ethics of zero tolerance


Who has the power to make decisions that will not be analyzed and criticized by the media, the courts, or the community? The role of administrative decision-making in the schools has gone through a metamorphosis. No longer can a principal make a decision regarding a student’s behavior without unsolicited feedback from many constituents in the community. This feedback may alter an administrative decision that might have been easily solved differently before the heightened media awareness in the community. What keeps this critical analysis of zero tolerance ethical is the role the school administrator must play. According to Starratt (1991), the ethical challenge under an ethic of critique is for the leader to make social arrangements, like zero tolerance policies, “more responsive to the human and social rights of all the citizens” and “to enable those affected by social

JEA 41,1


arrangements to have a voice in evaluating their results and in altering them in the interests of the common good and of fuller participation and justice for individuals” (p. 190). Finally, if we argue that it is the school leaders, primarily, who know best how to administer education, we can argue further that it is the school leaders who must accept the ethical obligation to restructure educational policy-making and implement policies that meet the purposes for which public education was designed.

Justice At its core, the ethic of justice strives for a balance between two competing interests: the principle of benefit maximization and the principle of equal respect (Strike et al., 1998). To achieve this balance, the ethical leader must ask and answer one question (Starratt, 1991): How shall we govern ourselves? On one end of this ethical spectrum, a person’s primary role in society is governed by his or her participation in the life of the community (Starratt, 1991). As such, the best and most just decision is one that produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people in the society. In other words, the one that maximizes some specified and defined benefit (Strike et al., 1998). Within the realm of zero tolerance, there are at least a few benefits to be maximized: a safe school, with clear and strongly worded regulations; a student discipline code with predictable and consistent application; and a learning environment free of danger, free of disruptive students, and free from fear. It is perhaps here that zero tolerance gains its strongest ethical support (Langdon and Vesper, 2000, as cited in McCarthy and Webb, 2000). The principle of benefit maximization judges the ethics of a policy by its consequences. Clearly, legislators and school officials who implement a zero tolerance policy hope to see a reduction in violence and other disciplinary infractions, where the penalties for infractions will act as a deterrent from further misbehavior. They hope to provide an atmosphere conducive to learning for those who comply with the policy. Unfortunately, the hoped-for results from zero tolerance policies have not materialized, adding strength to the argument that these policies are not based in ethical leadership. In other words, the advertised benefits have not been maximized under a zero tolerance philosophy. In fact, according to the United States Department of Education, the implementation of zero tolerance policies has actually resulted in an increase of suspensions and expulsions (as cited in Henault, 2001). Perhaps the increase in exclusionary discipline is due to the increased seriousness and enforcement of discipline codes. But however positive they are, these increases come at a price. The expense is the damage to the individual student, whether that student is the harshly penalized wrongdoer or the fearful silenced law-abider. It is the failure of policy implementers to consider the individual student and his or her rights and roles

in the governmental balance that gives zero tolerance one of its greatest ethical criticisms. Consistent with this focus on the individual, the other end of the justice spectrum favors the principle of equal respect. Under this principle, the individual is the source of moral judgment (Starratt, 1991; Strike et al., 1998). It is not the consequences of a policy that matter as much as it is the process and substance of the implementation. First, ethical administrators who advocate and implement zero tolerance policies must comply with procedural due process: notice of the charges and an opportunity for the charged students to tell their side of the story (Goss v. Lopez, 1975; Essex, 2001). Second, and more fundamental to a discussion of zero tolerance and ethics, substantive due process requires that decisions be fair, equitable, and within the proper discretion of the decision-maker (Lyons v. Penn Hills Sch. Dist., 1999; and Seal v. Morgan, 2000). Parallel to substantive due process is the ethical principle of equal treatment. Under this principle, policy implementers must treat as equals those who are situated similarly, and as unequals those who are not situated similarly (Strike et al., 1998). While unequal treatment may sound unethical on the surface, consider the following example:A high school student prevents his friend from following through with a threat to commit suicide; he takes the friend’s gun. Out of fear that his friend would get into trouble, the student keeps the gun in his locker and away from school administration. The school discovers the weapon and expels the student for gun possession. Should the student in this example receive the same punishment as another student who brings a gun to school and intends to use it? Formulaic implementation of zero tolerance would say “yes”. The principle of equal treatment argues that the above example is not as serious as weapon possession with the intent to do harm and substantive due process requires that disciplinary discretion be exercised fairly and equitably. Zero tolerance sounds easy to implement, but one size does not necessarily fit all (Essex, 2001; Henault, 2001; McCarthy and Webb, 2000; and Skiba and Peterson, 1999b). Policy development and implementation must be based upon the severity of the offenses, the students’ histories of past behavior (Henault, 2001). An administrator must examine the behavior in question, determine what type of threat there is to the school in regards to safety, and choose a consequence that is appropriate and fair to all involved including the perpetrator. This process cannot and should not yield an impulsive decision based upon fear and zero tolerance. Due to the overwhelming publicity many zero tolerance cases have received administration and schools may tend to react before weighing all of the facts. This philosophy is based upon a fear factor, rather than an ethical balance of all of the facts, rationally, before making a healthy decision. This theme of justice and equity must be considered before implementing a consequence. An administrator in the twenty-first century must evaluate the situation, listen to

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all sides of the story, and make a recommendation that reflects school policy and law taking into account natural common sense consequences. Does the consequence connect to the behavior? If the answer is “no”, then further investigation and consultation with others is necessary. Zero tolerance, if taken to the extreme, can mirror the witch-hunts in Salem, Massachusetts. Hysteria and fear cannot be the guiding principles of today’s administrator. Care According to Henault (2001), imposition of a punishment that is not proportional to the infraction not only impairs a student’s attitude toward justice and fairness in society, but it also endangers the development of caring trusting relationships between children and adults. The ethic of care asks the question “what do our relationships ask of us?” (Starratt, 1991). It is within the ethic of care that relationships are based more on regard for people as human beings than for their roles as parties to a contract. The ethical administrator develops sensitivity to the dignity and uniqueness of each individual and attends to the cultural tone of the organization (Starratt, 1991). Several authors argue that zero tolerance, while well intended, does not solve the problems it was intended to address. Recall that the violence rates that inspired the current wave of zero tolerance may not be as high as once believed (Insley, 2001; McCarthy and Webb, 2000). Furthermore, disciplinary exclusion of wrongdoers often perpetuates a more personal and serious exclusion. It is widely held that implementation of exclusionary zero tolerance contributes to higher dropout rates (Insley, 2001; Skiba and Peterson, 1999b). What is needed, instead, are more alternative educational opportunities for those students who need to be excluded from the traditional setting (Essex, 2001). This is particularly true early on in a student’s educational career. Children can be psychologically damaged and alienated by excessive discipline (Insley, 2001; Skiba and Peterson, 1999b). School administrators must take the time to develop in collaboration with students, teachers, parents, community members, and law enforcement officials proactive, safe learning communities. If educators break down communication barriers and get to know their students, then violence, threats and bullying should decrease. The breaking down of barriers is nothing more than creating a web of care. Administrator presence outside their offices is a start. Principals must smile, say hello, make eye contact with their students, and learn the names of the children who are in the school. As an administrator touches another student with a smile or a “hello” the web of care spreads, and communication barriers break down. Providing students the opportunity to talk with interested adults, or peer listeners goes a long way toward the prevention of bullying and threatening behavior. Utilizing the resources already available to school psychologists, speech therapists, classified staff, and parents can create smaller communities within a large school setting.

Prevention must be the overall answer. This technique must be articulated K12, not just in high school. It is a culture change. The climate of the school from the part-time coach to the superintendent must mirror a caring, honest, safe environment. Then when the individual cases arise, and they will arise, the established climate, along with the policy and associated investigation, solutions and consequences inspired and directed by care and common sense will prevail. Resolution of the case scenario and ethical dilemma In this particular case, inspired by a true story, the instructor’s initial response was this: she took the proposed weapon, but failed to respond appropriately until after the class period ended. The school expelled the student, causing the student to miss graduation. Under most states’ laws and policies, the student should have been removed once the look-alike gun had been secured. The teacher’s failure to react appropriately would have been scrutinized had the case gone to court. Perhaps the teacher kept the gun and child within the room to avoid a panic situation within the classroom. The teacher could have been criticized for not reacting soon enough to protect the other students. Or was this a case of board of education overreaction? The student not participating in graduation exercises could be a major point to the family and the other graduating seniors. They might argue that the consequences did not fit the behavior. That is, that the administration acted impulsively and failed to look at all the facts and possible consequences in order to resolve the problem in an honest, fair, equitable and positive manner. It is always easier to survey and critique administrative decisions after the fact. It is also essential to do this if growth in school policy and procedures will ever occur. At the end of each episode at school, the data need to be collected and evaluated by the administration to determine the pros and cons of decisionmaking solutions. Without these data, poor solutions will continue and schools will stagnate and die. For any school to evolve, every policy, procedure, or decision that is made must incorporate an evaluation, whether formal or informal. If the teacher feels threatened, her decision-making ability can become scattered. If the school fails to incorporate any type of alternative education, the student may never earn a diploma and his problems will perpetuate. In this case, counseling was overlooked; care was overlooked. Why did the student have a look-alike weapon in class, and why did he take it out and point it at the ceiling? The “why” questions should have been asked and answered in counseling. An actual outcome of this case could be that the student completed a correspondence course on his own to receive his diploma. The principal could give the diploma at the end of the summer in the theatre to allow the student to wear a cap and gown and walk across a stage. The family would then have pictures of their child receiving the diploma in graduation decorum.

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Recommendations This scenario was but one example of the consequences, right or wrong, of the implementation of zero tolerance. Zero tolerance policies have not improved the lives of children. Instead, the policies have become a means of criminalizing our children (Henault, 2001). What once were handled through natural in-school consequences have now become criminal police matters. Obviously, if weapons are threatening, they must be handled appropriately. However, Curwin and Mendler (1999) recommend “as tough as necessary” as an alternative measure to pure zero tolerance. This particular measure has a better chance of respecting and reflecting each of the perspectives presented in Starratt’s threepart model than would a strict application of zero tolerance. In the past, being an effective building manager was good enough. However, now the building leader must master academic content and pedagogical techniques and, at the same time, provide a safe, secure nurturing environment for life-long learners. Because the practice of school administration has dramatically changed over the past several years, it is imperative that education and professional development change, as well. Starratt’s three-part model for ethical leadership – critique, justice, and care – provides educational leaders with the foundation to address issues of school violence and school culture ethically. In fact, in significant regard, each of the three perspectives – critique, justice, and care – is included in state and national standards for school administrative licensure (National Policy Board for Educational Administration, 2002). In February 2002, the Educational Leadership Constituent Council (ELCC) approved an amended set of standards expected to be included in university preparation programs for school administrators. Among the standards is “Professional and Ethical Leadership”. Under these standards, school leaders are expected to demonstrate an understanding of and the capability to develop and implement a shared vision for their schools; to motivate staff, students, parents, and community members to work toward the achievement of that vision; to solve problems efficiently and effectively; and to integrate a professional code of ethics and values into school culture. In an ever-changing world, much of this professional development can come from partnerships with universities and professional associations that adopt these and similar standards. Coursework and other professional development opportunities can and should be developed in a seminar format, conducted both face-to-face and online, to encourage discussion. National and international administrative listservs need to be developed and maintained so that administrators can discuss ethical and legal issues before making critical decisions that affect the lives of children. With respect to the issues of school violence, partnerships with police and fire departments need to be developed so that school personnel can be trained in liability issues, crime processing, and drug and violence awareness and prevention programs. With the increase in terrorism and other large-scale violent incidents, school administrators need to be able to make

security decisions in conjunction with police and fire officials. The days of the once-a-month fire drills are over, and have been replaced with defensive, proactive, preventative crime techniques in the public schools. The school leader sets the tone for the culture of the building. Equal respect for students, parents, and teachers starts at the top and works its way down the ladder. Respect is modeled and learned by example. The school leader conceptualizes that behavior through caring, ethical and fair treatment and decision-making. A thorough ethical analysis must be conducted. As long as a culture of zero tolerance persists, the complete role of the school leader will not be played. It is imperative when addressing inappropriate student behavior that the child, the other students, the situation, the behaviors, the history, the process, the climate, and the culture are considered. From these variables, an individual decision or outcome must be derived that will provide as close to a win/win solution as possible for all involved. Schools must take the time to develop and evaluate well-thought policies and procedures that include safety, humanity, and education as problem-solving guidelines. From these guidelines, the most critical theme is the ethic of care, perhaps because this ethic stands to be lost most easily in a zero tolerance environment that favors formula over discretion. Schools were developed to prepare young people for life and work in a democratic society and to do so within a community of learning. The ethic of care needs to be intertwined in this effort as the ethics of zero tolerance continue to evolve in the public schools.
References Cartledge, G., Tillman, L.C. and Johnson, C.T. (2001), “Professional ethics within the context of student discipline and diversity”, Teacher Education and Special Education, Vol. 24 No. 1, pp. 25-37. Curwin, R.L. and Mendler, A.R. (1999), “Zero tolerance for zero tolerance”, Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 81 No. 2, pp. 119-20. Daniel, P.T.K. and Pauken, P.D. (2000), “The electronic media and school violence”, paper presented at the 46th Annual Convention of the Education Law Association, Atlanta, GA, November. 9-11. Dodd, A.W. (2000), “Making schools safe for all students: why schools need to teach more than the 3 R’s”, NASSP Bulletin, Vol. 84 No. 614, pp. 25-31. Essex, N.L. (2001), “The limits of zero tolerance”, Principal Leadership, Vol. 1 No. 8, pp. 5-7. Goss v. Lopez (1975), 419 U.S. 565. (The) Gun-Free Schools Act (1994), 20 U.S.C. sec. 8921; P.L. 103-382, Title I, sec. 101; 108 Stat. 3907. Henault, C. (2001), “Zero tolerance in schools”, Journal of Law and Education, Vol. 30 No. 3, pp. 547-53. Houston, P.D. (2000), “Bombing children into the Stone Age”, School Administrator, Vol. 57 No. 8, p. 58. Insley, A.C. (2001), “Suspending and expelling children from educational opportunity: time to reevaluate zero tolerance policies”, American University Law Journal, Vol. 50, pp. 103974.

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Kennedy, M. (1999), “The changing face of school violence”, American School and University, Vol. 71 No. 11, p. SS6. Langdon, C. and Vesper, N. (2000), “The sixth Phi Delta Kappan poll of teachers’ attitudes toward the public schools”, Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 81 No. 8, pp. 607-11. Lecher, K. (2001), “Zero tolerance”, The Toledo Blade, pp. A1-A6. Lyons v. Penn Hills Sch. Dist. (1999), 732 A.2d 1073 (Pa. Commw. Ct.), appeal denied, 740 A.2d 235. McCarthy, M.M. and Webb, L.D. (2000), “Balancing duties and rights”, Principal Leadership (High School Ed.), Vol. 1 No. 1, pp. 16-21. Martin, M.W. (2000), “Does zero mean zero?”, American School Board Journal, Vol. 187 No. 3, pp. 39-41. National Policy Board for Educational Administration (2002), “Revised standards for the review of university-based programs in educational administration receive approval”, available at: (accessed August 2, 2002). Pauken, P.D., Kallio, B.R. and Stockard, R.R. (2001), “The ethics of public school fiscal and academic accountability legislation: a multidimensional analysis”, Journal of School Leadership, Vol. 11 No. 3, pp. 162-81. Pipho, C. (1998), “Living with zero tolerance”, Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 79 No. 10, pp. 725-6. Seal v. Morgan (2000), 229 F.3d 567. Skiba, R. and Peterson, R. (1999a), “The dark side of zero tolerance”, Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 79 No. 10, pp. 372-8. Skiba, R. and Peterson, R. (1999b), “ZAP zero tolerance policies”, The Education Digest, Vol. 64 No. 8, pp. 24-30. Starratt, R.J. (1991), “Building an ethical school: a theory for practice in educational leadership”, Educational Administration Quarterly, Vol. 27 No. 2, pp. 185-202. Strike, K.A. (1991), “The moral role of schooling in a liberal democratic society”, Review of Research in Education, Vol. 17, pp. 413-83. Strike, K.A., Haller, E.J. and Soltis, J.F. (1998), The Ethics of School Administration, Teachers College Press, New York, NY. Vail, K. (1995), “Ground zero”, American School Board Journal, Vol. 182 No. 6, pp. 36-8. Further reading Essex, N.L. (2000), “Zero tolerance approach to school violence: is it going too far?”, American Secondary Education, Vol. 29 No. 2, pp. 37-9.

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