As part of the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994,
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a measure dubbed the “Gun-Free
Schools Act of 1994” to set a “zero tolerance” policy to keep America’s
schools gun-free. Here is her explanation of the act, and here is her brochure justifying
the regulation. The goal was to remove firearms from all public schools
by requiring districts that receive federal funds to adopt a gun-free
school policy and expel for one year students who carry a gun to school.
act was signed into law on October 22, 1994 as part of the Elementary
and Secondary Education Act of 1994. In January 2002, the section was
repealed (USC Title 20, Chapter 70, Supchapter XIV, Part F Gun
Possession, Sections 8921-8923). New sections were substituted: US Code 20, Section 7151: Gun-free requirements, known as the “Gun-Free Schools Act.”
On April 20, 1999, two students at Columbine High School
near Denver Colorado killed 12 students and a teacher, and wounded 23
others, then committed suicide. This sparked a national debate on gun
laws and school discipline policies. For the next few years, schools
across the country began using the 1994 law to enact strict
zero-tolerance policies not only for guns but also for an array of
items that kept adding up until now everything from lethal weapons to
butter knives to laser pointers to aspirin possession to being under
the influence of a drug to carrying parsley can get kids expelled.
is growing opposition to the way these policies are implemented – to
the lack of judgment being used, the lack of proven benefits, and the
deleterious effects on children, especially poor and minority kids.
‘Zero Tolerance’ initially was defined as consistently enforced
suspension and expulsion policies in response to weapons, drugs and
violent acts in the school setting. Over time, however, zero tolerance
has come to refer to school or district-wide policies that mandate
predetermined, typically harsh consequences or punishments (such as
suspension and expulsion) for a wide degree of rule violation. Most
frequently, zero tolerance policies address drug, weapons, violence,
smoking and school disruption in efforts to protect all students’
safety and maintain a school environment that is conducive to learning.
teachers and administrators favor zero tolerance policies because they
remove difficult students from school; administrators perceive zero
tolerance policies as fast-acting interventions that send a clear,
consistent message that certain behaviors are not acceptable in the
“However, research indicates that, as implemented, zero
tolerance policies are ineffective in the long run and are related to a
number of negative consequences, including increased rates of school
drop out and discriminatory application of school discipline practices.
Proven discipline strategies that provide more effective alternatives
to broad zero tolerance policies should be implemented to ensure that
all students have access to an appropriate education in a safe
of the Code of Virginia governs education. Chapter 14 addresses
requirements related to pupils, including compulsory attendance
(22.1-254), medications (22.1-274), suspensions and expulsions
(22.1-277), and guidelines from the Virginia Board of Education and
model policies for codes of student conducts, and student searches.
(See Links and Resources for access to these).
local school officials claim their hands are tied by these codes and
regulations. But a close reading will reveal that, in fact, local
jurisdictions have a great amount of autonomy in implementing
discipline processes. Circumstances can dictate whether, when, and how
a student ever enters an informal or formal disciplinary system. Due
process is allowed. But it is not honored in Fairfax.
Mission:Transform the Fairfax County Public School
discipline system from a criminal and punitive approach to a restorative,
educational, and therapeutic process by working with families, FCPS,
county staff, civil rights and child development specialists, and legal