Home » An In-Depth Look at Zero Tolerance Policies and Racial Biases

An In-Depth Look at Zero Tolerance Policies and Racial Biases

Zero tolerance policies promote a one-size-fits all discipline model that has harmful effects on students. Minority students are disproportionately targeted by zero tolerance polices because of biases that permeate the disciplinary process. Racial biases in zero tolerance policies are well documented, yet an alternative discipline approach still has not been introduced. Implicit biases infiltrate zero tolerance policies and many cases have been documented that show students unfairly targeted based on their ethnic and racial identities. The issue of Islamophobia in schools was widely discussed after Ahmed Mohamed, a Muslim student, was arrested when security thought that his homemade clock was a bomb.

A report from the Department of Education studied how zero tolerance policies contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline and found unsettling results. The Department of Education’s research illustrated how zero tolerance policies are applied in school discipline and show disturbing biases. Research states “Black students, especially boys, face much harsher discipline in public schools than other students.” This data shows us that there is a huge problem with the way that schools discipline students. These harmful stereotypes and racial biases permeate school policy all over the country. How can administrators and educators assert that zero tolerance policies are creating a safe environment in schools when these policies unjustly target minority students? In schools where implicit bias and stereotypes are pervasive, all students are not given an equal chance to learn and succeed. By not addressing the implicit bias that plays a role in disciplinary processes, schools are not only allowing the school-to-prison pipeline to exist, but they are actively participating in its creation.

Implicit biases and stereotypes also influence the way educators approach disciplining their students and according to the Kirwin Institute, “students who displayed a ‘black walking style’ were perceived by their teachers as lower in academic achievement, highly aggressive and more likely to be in need of special education services.” This data is alarming because educators’ biases can have psychologically damaging effects on students and can heavily influence the academic success of students. As the data shows, bias can lead to very unfair and negative characterizations and perceptions of students. The Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy discussed implicit bias and stereotypes that influence the way educators and administrators interact with Hispanic students. The research found that Hispanic students are more likely to be disciplined than white students. The journal also reported that harmful stereotypes are perpetuated through the media. The media disproportionately portrays minority youths as being criminals that the school system has to fear. Jennifer Castillo’s research on this subject found that in the media “teen super-predators were urban African-American and Latinos, and they were described as ‘relentlessly violent.’” These stereotypes and implicit biases displayed in the media reinforce educators’ biases and lead to psychological, academic, physical, and emotionally negative outcomes for minority students.