Can Schools Punish Students for Self-Defense?

 Self-defense is the right to prevent suffering force or violence by using a sufficient level of counteracting force or violence. It is justification for applying force when you perceive that you are in danger. The pressure, however, should be proportionate to that of the attacker. In this article we shall see Can Schools Punish Students for Self-Defense?

Many schools in the US take a strict stance on fighting in school, some even have a zero-tolerance policy, and because of this, you can get punished for using self-defense during an altercation with another student. It would not matter if you were the instigator or not. The principle of self-defense is quite different in the educational environment in that it is virtually non-existent today. That has caused quite the controversy because it takes away your lawful rights as a person to defend yourself from harm and discourages you from standing up against bullies.

Can Schools Punish Students for Self-Defense?

What Is A Zero Tolerance Policy?

Zero-tolerance policy results in compulsory expulsion of any student who commits one or more specified offenses during school hours or on school grounds. Such policies are usually specific, and they generally come with severe punishments such as suspension or expulsion.

As far back as the ’80s, zero-tolerance policies have been used to curtail specific offenses like drugs or assault, then progressed even further to cover guns, tobacco, and alcohol possession on school property. In recent years, however, the term has become shorthand for all punitive school discipline policies.

Schools that have these policies believe that they discourage students from getting into fights with each other.

If you are involved in a scuffle at school, and your school has a zero-tolerance policy about fighting on school grounds, you are likely to get punished. It would not matter if you were not the aggressor and you were only trying to defend yourself because there is no tolerance for fighting, no matter the reason.

Contrary Views On Zero Tolerance Policy

Even though many people believe the policy to be quite effective, some perceive it to be the very opposite. Contrarian critics believe that zero tolerance has not proven to enhance school climate or increase safety at school but rather punishes the innocent for the crimes of the guilty. According to them, its application in suspension and expulsion has not demonstrated a reasonable means of improving student behavior.

Furthermore, researchers have noted that although zero-tolerance policies were initially intended as a deterrent for ALL offenders, there is the likelihood that it may have even aggravated disproportionate discipline for students of color, males especially.

What Is The Resulting Effect Of A No Self-Defense Policy?

Usually, blanket policies like these end up doing more harm than good. Having policies that prevent students from defending themselves would lead to an increased occurrence in any or all of the following;

  • Unfair Punishments: Critics say zero-tolerance policies in schools have resulted in punishments that have been criticized as egregiously unfair against students and teachers, especially in schools with poorly written policies.
  • Bullying: Bullies always pick on fellow students who they perceive are weak and unable to fight back. Most times, a bully would stop picking on you when you defend yourself against him. Most students believe that walking away or getting a teacher would only lead to continued harassment from the bully.
  • Inability To Handle Real-Life Problems: A school is where young minds get shaped, where students learn to think for themselves and be who they want to be. To do this, they must first be able to and allowed to express themselves. A policy that prohibits one from defending themselves will inhibit your ability to handle similar situations outside of school.
  • Lower Self Esteem: A school is one of a few significant places where you learn/master life abilities. If your school’s policy gives no room for you to defend yourself, you might never know if you can.

What Is The Punishment For Fighting In School?

Your Student Handbook provides for the consequences of fighting on school grounds. Most schools have rules that state that fighting would result in a suspension or an outright expulsion. A suspension could be either out-of-school or in-school (in some states, you do not have to get sent home to be considered suspended). Some schools, however, will first consider other factors before determining a suspension or expulsion.


As a student, you should endeavor to abide by the school rules and regulations so that you are not penalized unfairly. If you happen to be in a situation you perceive could degenerate into a fight, you should walk away or get a teacher.

 Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Which Is Worse, Expulsion Or Suspension?

The difference between the two is the amount of time you would have to spend out of school. A suspension might last for a few days, but an expulsion could last up to a year or might be indefinite.

  1. How Do You Cope With Being Expelled?

Do not give up. Endeavor to be as calm as possible throughout the situation, especially if you got suspended for merely defending yourself. Expelled students can still become very successful in life as far as they have adequate support. Be honest with your parents/guardians because they will not be angry at you for defending yourself.

  1. Can Expelled Students Come Back?

Contrary to popular belief, you can go back to school after getting expelled. Most public schools will provide a re-entry plan with special conditions for re-enrolment. However, if your expulsion is for a definite number of days without a re-entry plan, you can return to school when the expulsion period is over.

  1. I Got Expelled From School, Will Other Schools Accept Me?

You would first have to apply to them to find out. The answer to this would differ from school to school and depends on the school’s administration. Some schools might give you another chance, depending on the seriousness of your offense, but a lot of things would tell you whether you should expect to be accepted or not.