Running Head: Zero Tolerance
Zero Tolerance and Ethical Decisions
Thomas E. Ferrell, Jr.
Virginia Commonwealth University
Mr. Quayle, an elementary school principal has a tough decision to make. He must decide on how to proceed with a fourth grade student (James) who is seen as a nice student, who brought a gun to school.
The moral dilemma is whether or not Mr. Quayle should adhere to the district’s zero tolerance policy for weapons or keep this matter quiet and work with James and his family.
Analysis of the Dilemma:
Values in Play
Autonomy – Regarding the James and the issue with the gun, Mr. Quayle wishes he were in a position to handle the situation on a school level and not have to invoke the zero tolerance policy. “It was hard to imagine him (James) as anything other than a nice fourth grade boy” (Strike, Haller, and Soltis, 2005, p. 184). This is what makes the decision that Mr. Quayle has to follow through with a tough one.
Confidentiality – Only Mr. Quayle, principal and Ms. Hesston, James’s teacher are aware of the situation. By keeping it confidential and not alerting the police and by not following through with the discipline that bringing a gun to school calls for, would Mr. Quayle be making a sound ethical decision? “Unless he could handle it discreetly and privately and persuade Ms. Hesston, who seemed sympathetic, to keep it quiet for James’s sake” (Strike, Haller, and Soltis, p. 185).
Justice – Most school systems have a centralized discipline matrix in place. Despite the fact that James seems like a harmless student, does Mr. Quayle have the right to treat him differently than any other student who might bring a gun to school? Are there circumstances in place that would prevent the school system from invoking the zero tolerance policy? That certainly is not Mr. Quayle’s decision to make. In order to be fair and just, it is his responsibility as a school leader to turn this matter over to the appropriate authorities in the school system and in the legal system.
Principles in Play
Concern for the well-being of others – Although there is a zero tolerance policy on weapons that appears to be set in stone, it is clear that Mr. Quayle is concerned for what this situation will do to James and his family. He is playing out the best possible way to handle this without doing too much damage to “a nice fourth grade boy” (p. 184). He is clearly a principal who sees past what is written in what would be his district’s code of conduct.
Willing Compliance with the Law – Despite the fact that Mr. Quayle would like to handle this matter internally, he understands that he does not have the flexibility to usurp the district’s policy, “ignoring the gun was illegal” (p. 185). With he and Ms. Hesston as the only adults who know about the gun, Mr. Quayle can take a chance by not involving the law. However, one thing that was not brought up was whether or not any students know about the gun. It’s been my experience that if a student brings a weapon to school, at least one or two students know about it.
Impartiality; objectivity – Should Mr. Quayle have the capacity to look at each weapons case subjectively? Principals can get into situations where they give certain allowances for students who exhibit exemplar behavior. Exhibiting this type of behavior, however, does not mean that a student is not capable of making a poor decision with regards to weapons. Mr. Quayle is in a difficult, yet not so difficult situation. He has to adhere to the zero tolerance policy, but those above him have the final say as to whether or not James is expelled or faces other consequences. He can be sympathetic to James and his family, but his line has to be a hard one.
Possible Course of Action
Adhering to the Zero Tolerance Policy – By adhering to the zero tolerance policy, Mr. Quayle, the school, and the district send a strong message to students and the community that bringing weapons to school is unacceptable. Will this do damage to James, who felt like this was his way of getting school bullies to leave him alone? It’s quite possible that it may. Being expelled from school and isolated from everyone during school hours can be damaging to anyone; let alone a fourth grader. However, this also opens the district’s eyes to a couple of serious problems: 1. a serious bullying problem and 2. the ability of a fourth grader to acquire a dangerous weapon. Holding James accountable and enforcing the zero tolerance policy is s
Handle the matter internally – Given that Mr. Quayle and Ms. Hesston are the only two adults who know about this matter, Mr. Quayle could elect to deal with this matter internally. Although James’s parents would certainly appreciate Mr. Quayle’s generosity in giving James a break by not enforcing the policy, how does Mr. Quayle handle the next student that brings a gun to school? Does he totally ignore the policy and begin to look at students on a case by case basis with regards to weapons?
Ethical Decision Making
There are several ethical paradigms that I could take in deciding on how to proceed in settling this matter. The Ethic of Justice and Kantianism are the vehicles that I will utilize in making an ethical decision that will benefit the school.
Shapiro & Stefkovich (2001) and Staratt (1994) state, “The ethic of justice demands that the claims of the institution serve both the common good and the rights of individuals in the school.” When utilizing the Ethic of Justice, one takes the institution into account over the individual. The ideal is that what is best for the institution is what’s best for the individual.
Kantianism, named for German Philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is rooted in the fact that it is, “Our duty to do what is right” (Strike & Soltis).
In utilizing Kant’s theory to resolve this matter, the ethical thing to do would be to enforce the zero tolerance policy. The justification is that it is our duty as school administrators to do what is right for the school. This can and often means that an individual suffers a harsh consequence, but we must look at the bigger picture; our responsibility to protect the entire student body. According to Strike & Soltis (pp. 14-18), Kant also says that “prior to acting, we should ask whether what we are about to do would be a good model for a rule for other people to follow.” I think this in itself provides a blue print on how to deal with matters in which a student brings a gun to school. Everyone administrator should follow the same protocol which would be to adhere to the zero tolerance policy.
In taking the Ethics of Justice into consideration, the decision to invoke the zero tolerance policy is the fair and ethical thing to do. James’s decision to bring a gun to school, despite the fact that he is a “good fourth grade boy” was a conscience decision that he made. For making such a decision, he has to suffer the consequences. Granted, many administrators tend to take personal relationships with students into consideration when dealing with them on discipline matters; however, right is right and wrong is wrong. Based on the Ethics of Justice, Mr. Quayle must invoke the zero tolerance policy; it is the ethical thing to do.
The following personal ethics might come under attack with regards to my decision to invoke the zero tolerance policy:
* Concern for the well-being of others – One might argue that I did not take the fact that James was being bullied and that he is a “good kid” into consideration. However, “good kids” are capable of making poor choices. When they do, they have to suffer the consequences.
* Benevolence: doing good – In the eyes of some, James might have been doing a “good thing” by standing up to the bullies. When we look at his brining a weapon to school on a larger scale, not punishing him the full extent sends the wrong message to James and to the other students. James did not “do good.”
When utilizing ethical reasoning to make decisions that greatly impact others, you still struggle to do what is right. As human beings, we have feelings and emotions and it is not always easy to satisfy our feelings and make sound decisions. Having the basis of a theory doesn’t necessary give you a blue print to follow, but a guideline in which you can use to make ethically sound decisions.
Shapiro & Stefkovich (2001), Starratt (1994). Ethical Leadership and Decision Making in
Education. Retrieved February 18, 2009.
Strike, K.A., Haller, E.J & Soltis, J.F. (2005). The Ethics of School Administration. New York, NY: Teacher’s College Press.
Strike, Haller, & Soltis. Demonstration Case: A Clash Between Rights and Fairness. Retrieved February 18, 2009.