Date of Award

Spring 2014

Document Type


Terms of Use

© 2014 Catherine Kelley. All rights reserved. This work is freely available courtesy of the author. It may only be used for non-commercial, educational, and research purposes. For all other uses, including reproduction and distribution, please contact the copyright holder.

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Educational Studies Department, Sociology & Anthropology Department

First Advisor

Sarah Willie-LeBreton

Second Advisor

Sarah Costelloe


The goals of this thesis are to highlight the unintended consequences of zero tolerance policies in U.S. public schools and the context surrounding the initial use of zero tolerance policies in schools by uniting existing bodies of research from the past two decades. The prominence of zero tolerance policies has led to the overuse of out-of-school suspension for nonviolent offenses such as tardiness and classroom disruption. It has further led to minority students, especially African American students, being disciplined at higher rates compared to their white peers. I argue that zero tolerance policies are not inherently racist or discriminatory policies, yet their varying implementation in schools has led to a severe discriminatory effect in suspension rates, high school completion, and the number of students referred to the juvenile justice system. Therefore, the influence of zero tolerance should be eliminated from school discipline policies in favor of highly effective alternative policies, specifically System-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports and restorative justice practices.