Your Child’s School’s Zero Tolerance Policy Can Lead to Criminal ChargesSince the early 1980s, schools have put policies into place in order to best serve the needs and safety of students. From elementary school to college, there are certain rules that students must follow or else face consequences. These consequences are not limited to just being written up, detention, or suspension, but can actually have long-lasting ramifications, depending on how they violate the policy.

The current policy responsible for these rules and their penalties is called a “Zero Tolerance” (or “No Tolerance”) policy, and it is critical for every student and every parent to be aware of the types of misconduct that is prohibited in school. It is not only important to know and follow this policy for your child’s educational career, but for their life going forward.

A threat of violence at the high school

Just at the end of August this year, a student at our local Sevier County High School made what was construed to be a threatening message directed at the school, which they posted on their social media account.

Even though the threat had been described by the local authorities as “non-specific in nature,” the student was still arrested and charged with making a threat of violence pertaining to a school – a Class A misdemeanor. If found guilty, the student could face a maximum jail time of up to 11 months and 29 days, pay a fine of up to $2,500, or both.

What is the Zero Tolerance policy?

Under Tennessee state law, each school must adopt a Zero Tolerance policy. This is intended to secure the students’ and staff’s safety, and well as provide an educational environment that is “free of drugs, violence, and firearms.” The policy is called “Zero Tolerance” because any violation of the policy will be met with “certain, swift, and reasoned punishment.” The reasoned punishments are disciplinary measures aimed to correct the misbehavior while encouraging respect and compliance to the policy and to the codes of conduct.

Schools must identify which misbehaviors and offenses are part of the No Tolerance policy, and also define the corresponding punishment. Not all punishments need to be expulsions or suspensions, but the offenses that do fall into that category include (per the Tennessee Board of Education):

  • “Bringing to school or being in unauthorized possession on school property of a firearm
  • Commission of aggravated assault upon any teacher, principal, administrator, any other employee of an LEA, or school resource officer; or
  • Unlawfully possessing any drug including any controlled substance, controlled substance analogue, or legend drug.”

Non-criminal penalties

There are two main non-criminal penalties for students that violate the Zero Tolerance policy of their school. Those penalties include:

  • Suspension: A suspension is a temporary removal of the student from attending their regular educational setting due to violating school policies. A suspension can last up to five days. There is also in-class suspension as well, where the student still receives their education, and still comes to school, but they are taught separately from the rest of their peers.
  • Expulsion: It is generally implied that when a student violates the Zero Tolerance policy, that they shall be penalized with a one-year suspension, though that is not always the case, as the director of schools may modify the penalty on a case-by-case basis.

Expulsions and suspensions can appear on a student’s permanent record, and can keep him or her from attending the college of their choice, and it may result in them losing any scholarships. Also, studies have shown that students who are suspended or expelled often continue on to further suspensions and expulsions, even being a precursor to what experts call the “school to prison” pipeline.

Criminal penalties for violating Zero Tolerance policies in Sevierville

If a student brings in such contraband such as guns, weapons, and drugs, or if they threaten violence against the school, this can lead to arrests, jail time, and fines. Taking the example above, the student who had seemingly threatened the school through social media was charged with a Class A misdemeanor. Class A misdemeanors are the most severe of the misdemeanors, with the longest jail time and fines.

Obviously, no one wants to have a criminal charge on their record. Not only do colleges look at this, but jobs as well. Schools and employers will not likely accept someone with a criminal record. Criminal records can also affect loans for housing, renters can turn them away, and so on. Having a criminal record can affect many different aspects of a student’s life, now and in the future.

Why you should have a Sevierville defense lawyer if your child is charged with a crime

Sometimes, the action deserves the punishment, but when it comes to kids being charged with crimes, we need to look at all the factors surrounding and motivating the incident. It could be likely that a mistake has been made, or that someone else who was with your child at the time of the crime was the one responsible. You obviously don’t want your child to go to jail, and you don’t want to pay thousands of dollars either. That is why you need a criminal defense lawyer who can best present your child’s case and protect their rights.

At Delius & McKenzie, we have a long history with criminal defense. We know our way around the legal system, and we know what the court is looking for. We want your child to have a good education and a bright future. If your child has been charged with a crime, call us at 865-320-9907 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment. Our firm has served clients in and around Sevierville, Seymour, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge for over two decades.