NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Zero Tolerance" Meets An Education Entitlement

March 31, 2000

The policy is zero tolerance for guns and drugs at school: first strike and the offending student is out -- unless the student has a disability. While racial disparities among students receiving disciplinary sanctions have received much media attention in the last year, the disparate treatment of students with disabilities hasn't.

But, according to a Congressional Quarterly report, under 1997 amendments to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), special education students are entitled to second chances not given other students. For example,

  • If a disabled child brings a weapon to school, he may be immediately removed and suspended for 10 days, during which time the school must determine whether or not the offense was a manifestation of his disability.
  • If the behavior is disability-related and the student is determined to be a danger, the school may send him to an alternative school for 45 days -- and after formal reviews, for additional 45-day periods.
  • If not, the student may be expelled from the school for a year, the same as a nondisabled child.
  • In either case, unlike a nondisabled child, he must be given free alternative education.

Disabilities can range from stuttering to serious emotional disturbance, and one out of every eight students has a condition covered by the law. Furthermore, students with a disability are twice as likely as nondisabled students to be expelled or suspended.

In addition to the federal mandate in IDEA, nine states require schools to provide alternative schooling for other problem students; it is optional in 25 states; and 14 states have no laws governing alternative services.

In the 1997-98 school year, 3,930 students were expelled for bringing a firearm to school; but only 43 percent were sent to alternative schools.

Source: "Zero Tolerance," CQ Researcher, March 10, 2000, Congressional Quarterly, Inc.


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