Schools Find 'Zero Tolerance' Term Ambiguous


Although school districts throughout the United States have zero-tolerance policies for guns -- as stipulated by state and federal law -- not all schools expel students for possessing firearms, the Associated Press reported Sept. 1.

At Pueblo High Magnet School in Arizona, for instance, 64 students were arrested for having weapons on or near school grounds in the 2001-2002 school year, but not all of the students were expelled.

"I'm not sure what the term 'zero tolerance' really means," said Ragi Case, a public defender for Pima County Juvenile Court. "It's a good sound bite, but it doesn't really carry much meaning. The term is ambiguous -- schools use it so much but the results of cases vary so much."

Under federal and state laws, a student who brings a gun to school faces expulsion from the school district for one year. However, school districts have the authority to use discretion on a case-by-case basis.

"My interpretation of 'zero tolerance' is a lot different than what the public would think 'zero tolerance' means," said Rex Shumway, an attorney for the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). "I view 'zero tolerance' as, you have set out a series of guidelines and codes that are specific and are followed. Within those codes there is room for consideration, with the idea being you're going to be consistent. 'Zero tolerance' is not what everyone thinks it is."