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Title page for ETD etd-04112008-180258

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Wood, Janell Lynn
URN etd-04112008-180258
Title Zero Tolerance: A Policy Implementation Study
Degree PhD
Department Leadership and Policy Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
James W. Guthrie, PhD Committee Chair
Claire Smrekar, PhD Committee Member
Deborah W. Rowe, PhD Committee Member
Michael McLendon, PhD Committee Member
  • suburban high schools
  • school discipline
  • school violence
Date of Defense 2008-02-13
Availability unrestricted
The general purpose of this study was to understand how zero tolerance policies have been implemented in schools since the passage of the Gun Free and Safe Schools Acts of 1997 (Jones, 1997). There were two guiding research questions: How and to what extent has zero tolerance policies been implemented in schools? And what is the relationship between policy, school, and student factors and implementation variability? In order to investigate these questions, a case study of one suburban high school’s approach to implementing zero tolerance policies was conducted. Semi-structured interviews were held with policy stakeholders including school administrators, school district personnel, and a school resource officer.

In the study, I found that although there were financial and technical resources deployed to implement zero tolerance policies, school administrators received no formalized training in enforcing the policy. Assistant Principals played a critical role in policy interpretation and enforcement and were in fact the least trained individuals. A lack of training required administrators to develop informal communication networks and mentoring relationships as a means of support. Students were also an important resource as they were frequently the individuals who reported violations to administrators.

In terms of policy clarity, there were a variety of interpretations of the “unlawful possession of drugs” and “weapons”. This lack of clarity encouraged school officials to use some discretion in enforcing the policy including not disciplining students according to the letter of the law.

During the course of this study on zero tolerance it became apparent that the role of the federal government in implementing such policies diminishes and gives way to greater state control. Although the mandates for safe and drug free schools were issued at the federal level, the responsibility of executing such lofty goals rested squarely on the states’ shoulders. School administrators carried much of the burden.

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