2000 - 2003

Project Director: Nan D. Stein, Ed.D.

Funded by: Private foundation

Through this project, researchers examined experiences of sexual harassment in schools even when zero-tolerance policies may exist.

This project conducted focus groups and in-depth interviews, analyses of policies and procedures on sexual harassment and school safety or zero tolerance, which schools have implemented, and concluded with suggestions for formulating policies. The purpose of the focus groups and interviews was to learn about the experiences of school personnel when they are faced with cases of sexual harassment, in light of any school safety or zero tolerance policies that their school district might have in place.

This project surveyed the range of disciplinary responses that schools have and the ways in which teachers and administrators handle cases of peer-to-peer sexual harassment. The project also focused on learning the extent to which individual discretion by teacher or administrator is permitted when making disciplinary decisions about sexual harassment in light of any zero tolerance and school safety policies or requirements.

Nan Stein. (2001) "Sexual Harassment Meets Zero Tolerance: Life in K-12 Schools Since Davis." Hastings Women's Law Journal, 12(1): 123-131.

Nan Stein. (2001) "Sexual Harassment Meets Zero Tolerance: Life in K-12 Schools." In Ayers, Dohrn & Ayers (Eds.), Zero Tolerance: Resisting the Drive for Punishment. A Handbook for Parents, Students, Educators and Citizens (pp. 130-137). New York: New Press.

Formulations of Zero Tolerance, Sexual Harassment and School Safety

Project Director: Nan Stein, Ed.D.
Funder: The Harold Benenson Memorial Fund

This project located and analyzed various states' legislative proposals on school safety. Some of these laws frame school safety by offering anti-bullying measures, while other laws propose anti-harassment measures which are more deeply connected to already existing civil rights laws. The ways in which these laws are crafted have implications for gender and the ways in which gender is tied, or not, to notions of school safety.

Nan Stein. (2003) "Bullying or Sexual Harassment? The Missing Discourse of Rights in an Era of Zero Tolerance." University of Arizona Law Review, Fall 2003, 45(3): 783-799.

Injecting the Voices of Teachers Into the “Zero Tolerance” Debate: Who Supports These Policies and Why? What are the Implications for Lawyers, Children’s Advocates, School Boards, and Others?

Project Director: Nan Stein, Ed.D.
Project Co-Director: Johanna Wald, M.Ed., The Civil Rights Project, Harvard University
Funder: The Open Society Institute of the Soros Foundation and others

Project Period: November 1, 2002 – December 31, 2003

In the past several years, a raging debate has sprung up across the country about the fairness and effectiveness of “zero tolerance” policies in our nation’s schools. These exclusionary policies are coming under increasing assault by children’s advocates, parents, and school reform groups for denying an education to students for relatively minor misdeeds and misbehaviors. Yet, they are often vigorously defended by school administrators as necessary for the maintenance of safe and orderly environments.

Too often absent in these debates is the voices of teachers, who are on the frontline of school discipline, and play pivotal roles in the authority chain leading to a decision to exclude a student from school. By choosing to either initiate a disciplinary referral or to keep a situation within the confines of the classroom they can either begin the process whereby a student is suspended or expelled, or halt it.

Teachers appear to be split on the issue of zero tolerance. Both of the large national teachers’ unions (the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association) originally supported these policies; then later withdrew their support. Many teachers strongly support of the use of suspensions and expulsions for student misbehaviors whereas others actually subvert zero tolerance policies so as to spare students from what they perceive as overly harsh punishments.

This project reported on focus groups of teachers’ views and perceptions of discipline within their schools that we have conducted in a New England state. Our goal was to begin to understand what drives teachers’ attitudes towards the use of zero tolerance and other exclusionary disciplinary practices in their schools, and whether these are related to the types of schools they teach in, their level of experience, the amount of additional support provided to them, and the population of students they teach.

Our results can inform the work of legal advocates of children, school administrators, and those advocating for school disciplinary reforms to better understand the types of environments and conditions teachers need in order to support alternatives to suspensions and expulsions.

The results of our project were delivered at an Education Law Conference at the University of Southern Maine, Portland, ME, late July 2004 and other professional conferences. Articles by Wald, Casella, and Stein are under review.

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