A study of zero tolerance policies in schools: a multi-integrated systems approach to improve outcomes for adolescents

J Child Adolesc Psychiatr Nurs. 2011 May;24(2):88-97. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-6171.2011.00273.x.


Problem: School officials throughout the United States have adopted zero tolerance policies to address student discipline, resulting in an increase in out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. The introduction of police on school campuses also increased the referral of students to the juvenile courts. Although school personnel generally view zero tolerance policies as a constructive measure, this approach denies recent research on adolescent brain development that mischief is a foreseeable derivative of adolescence.

Methods: A case study method examined one juvenile court's innovative multi-integrated systems approach related to the adverse trends associated with zero tolerance policies.

Findings: A multi-disciplinary protocol resulted in more effective youth assessments that reduced out-of-school suspensions and school referrals; increased graduation rates by 20%; and decreased delinquent felony rates by nearly 50%. The resulting protocol changed how the system responds to disruptive students by significantly reducing out-of-school suspensions and school referrals, and putting into place alternatives as well as providing community resources to address the underlying causes of the behavior.

Conclusion: A multi-systems approach that targets the reasons for disruptive behavior improves student educational and behavioral outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development
  • Continental Population Groups
  • Criminal Law / organization & administration
  • Educational Status
  • Ethnic Groups
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Punishment* / psychology
  • Schools / organization & administration*
  • Schools / standards
  • Students / psychology
  • United States