Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Zero Tolerance for Zero Tolerance

I have a daughter in high school, and four grandchildren in various stages of public schools, so I fully support sensible efforts to make schools as safe as possible. Keeping drugs and weapons away from schools is definitely necessary.

What I don’t support is when the rules established to achieve these desirable goals are rigid and stupidly applied by those who enforce those rules, in defiance of common sense.

We’ve all heard at least a couple of magnificently stupid stories of how zero tolerance and other over-zealous behavior have made people look like idiots. Not wanting to trust my memory, I began looking for some documented stories and found quite a few.

Herewith a few examples of why Zero Tolerance rules deserve zero tolerance, or at least a strong dose of common sense. These are published accounts of actual events. The names and other identifying information have been removed to protect the overzealous from ridicule.

Florida boy accused of assault with rubber band

A 7th grade student found a rubber band and put it on his wrist. When his teacher demanded its surrender he tossed it onto her desk. He was suspended for 10 days and now faces expulsion for threatening the teacher with a weapon.

High School Senior Expelled for Ammunition on Campus

A high school student took his father's truck to school. That fateful day happened to be when a random drug search was being conducted. The truck was searched and some ammunition left in the truck from his father's hunting expeditions was found under a pile of work gear. The boy was expelled for violating the school's zero tolerance weapons policy.

Candy, Little Boy?
A Colorado school district says it did the right thing when it suspended a 6-year-old boy under the school's zero-tolerance drug policy for possessing an unknown substance that turned out to be lemon drops. On appeal, school officials not only upheld the half-day suspension, but told the boy's mother that a child who brings candy to school is comparable to a teen that takes a gun to school.

Candy, Little Boy? II
A 10-year-old girl at another Colorado elementary school was one of a group of girls who "repeatedly" asked a certain boy on the playground if he liked them. The boy complained to a teacher, so school administrators, citing the district's "zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy," decided to suspend her.

Bang-Bang, You're Dead
Administrators saw three students at a charter school in another Colorado community playing with a water gun. According to the school's interpretation of the state's zero tolerance weapons law -- which mandates suspension of students who "carry, bring, use or possess a firearm or firearm facsimile at school" -- the boys have been suspended, and must now face expulsion hearings.

Home School Group Says Police Used Excessive Force

A local park has been a regular meeting place for a group of home-schoolers, who meet there every Wednesday to let the kids play. Lately the park was also being used by a nearby public school. This situation led to disaster for the home-schoolers when a public school teacher noticed one of the boys was wearing a pocketknife in a belt holster. Instead of talking with the boy or a parent, she called the cops. "I heard a man yelling take your hands out of your pocket and I turned around and he was yelling at one of the boys in the group,” says one mother.

Her 14-year-old son said, "He started yelling and screaming at this boy for having a knife, then pushed him down." The mother said he then "went for another boy, a 16-year-old, yelled at him something about having a knife, he pushed him to the ground." That’s when one of the other mothers tried to stop him, by getting between the man and the student. "She was trying to protect a student. We didn't know what was happening. He could've been a murderer, a rapist or anything. We just knew he was attacking one of our kids and we were trying to stop him," said one mom.

Continue Reading Bad Lieutenant »

It turns out that the man was plainclothes police officer, who hadn’t told anyone he was a police officer. He pushed the mother out of the way, before identifying himself. He arrested the mother who had interfered with him for felony assault and the child for carrying a concealed weapon.

But stupid adherence to rules is not limited to the United States:

An 11-year-old British schoolboy met an Australian classmate and greeted him by saying, "G'day, sport." The boy was "caught" by a teacher, the school said in a statement, and while "there was no maliciousness or intent" on the boy's part, he was charged with racism for his greeting. "The boy was counseled, ...dialogue has taken place with parents," and the boy was made to write "I must not use racist remarks" 60 times, said the statement by the Yorkshire school.


JL Pagano said...

I thoroughly agree with you in your assertion that the above examples represent examples of over-zealouness in the extreme.

At the risk of being accused of broadening the debate, however, I was wondering if you had any recommendations as to from whence this over-zealouness came.

I suggest a similar zero-tolerance be displayed towards lawyers who coerce parents into bringing frivolous law-suits against schools. I sincerely doubt Hillary Clinton in particular would support a bill for this!!!

Also, in the European case at least since I am not sure of the American situation, part of the blame must also be levelled at teachers' unions for continuously finding excuses for not doing their job. My kids' school was closed for 4 days a couple of weeks ago because the heating system was compromised and the room temperature dropped one degree below the "accepted" level (a reading, I might add, that was taken without the presence of a room full of kids).

If only common sense were common!

James Shott said...

Well, JL, I think you and I will agree entirely on this one.

As for where the over-zealousness originated, that's somewhat of a problem. I think there is a fair degree of political correctness and the over-sensitivity about certain issues that has arisen in the U.S. It is not unusual for people to go overboard with only slight provocation.

For example, one case I didn't include was the case of a six year-old boy who kissed a little girl on the cheek and was disciplined for sexual harrassment. At the age of six, when children are still innocent creatures, a kiss is a sweet thing, not harrassment. But the teacher, who was later identified as a women's libber, was "offended," and took action, even though the little girl "victim" was not upset by the kiss.

And, having been in public education, I realize that some people in education aren't the brightest bulbs in the box.

Further, school boards and administrators are scared to death of the frivolous lawsuits you alluded to, and go overboard to avoid them, which means that some rules are ignored while others are over-enforced.

And, having also worked in healthcare, you'll get no argument from me about over-zealous, money-hungry lawyers. Or about Hillary's penchant to support them.

The NEA, and to a slightly lesser extent the NFT, are focused on protecting teachers, not on educating young people. In the county where my kids go, they call off school sometimes on the expectation of snow. And they are very quick to call it off if one community has bad roads, even if the rest of the (mostly rural) county does not have bad travelling conditions. Fear of being sued is no doubt a part of that.

Buffalo said...

Since we are such a litigious society, maybe it is time to start hitting these people with law suits. Every time they do something stupid, sue them. Tie up the courts, get the media involved. Hell, go after the school board. They are elected bureaucrats. Organize.