Policy Factsheet

Zero Tolerance Policy

Reasons for Policy

  • An estimated 63 out of every 1000 students in U.S. schools are the victims of violence at school.2
  • School violence can impact the social, psychological, and physical well-being of students and disrupt the learning process.3

Community Groups

  • Local School District
  • Parent Teacher's Association
  • School Counselors
  • School Officers

Policy Components

  • Mandated application of predetermined consequences which are severe and punitive in nature such as expulsion or suspension
  • Consequences should be applied regardless of the gravity of behavior, mitigating circumstances, or situational context

Desired Outcomes

  • Deter students from disruptive behavior
  • Create an improved school climate and increase school safety

Level of Evidence Available to Evaluate Effectiveness of Policy

For all policies we describe on this website, we have applied the Standards of Evidence as defined by Flay et al. (2005) in the Standards of Evidence document published by Prevention Science.

The effectiveness level of this policy is 4: Consistent Evidence that Policy is Not Effective.

The levels of effectiveness as noted are:

  1. meets criteria for policy effectiveness (consistent, positive outcomes from at least two high-quality experimental or quasi-experimental trials using a comparison group or interrupted time series design);
  2. consistent evidence available linking policy with positive outcomes from high-quality observational studies only;
  3. insufficient evidence available for policy or policy components.

Achievable Results

  • Zero tolerance has not been shown to improve school climate, school safety, or student behavior4
  • Zero tolerance has exacerbated minority overrepresentation in school punishments4
  • Zero tolerance policies, as implemented, have failed to achieve the goals of an effective system of school discipline4
  • Evidence suggests that research-based prevention practices hold a great deal more promise than zero tolerance for producing safe schools with productive learning environments4


  1. Flay, BR, Biglan, A, Boruch, RF, Ganzalez Castro, F, Gottfredson, D, Kellam, S, Moscicki, EK, Schinke, S, Valentine, JC, & Ji, P (2005). Standards of evidence: Criteria for efficacy, effectiveness and dissemination. Prevention Science, 6(3), 151-175.

  2. Dinks, R, Lemp, J & Baum, K (2007). Indicators of school crime and safety: 2008. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. 2007;NCES 2009-0223:1-169.  

  3. Johnson, SL (2009). Improving the school environment to reduce school violence: a review of the literature. Journal of School Health, 79(10), 451-465.  

  4. American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force (2008). Are zero tolerance policies effective in the schools? An evidentiary review and recommendations. American Psychologist, 63(9), 852-862.