We have a problem, a problem of stupid people using stupid laws to punish children and teenagers for normal, sometimes even desirable behavior. What follows is but a small sample of the derpitude infecting our schools and communities.
North Andover, MA:
High school senior and volleyball team captain Erin Cox stops at a party give her too-drunk-to-drive friend a ride home. Police, who have also just arrived, briefly question her about her presence at the party but allow her leave after determining she has not been drinking. North Andover High School administrators (Principal Carla Scuzzarella & Superintendent Kevin Hutchinson) learn of this and punish Erin for violating a zero tolerance drug & alcohol policy by removing her as volleyball team captain and suspending her for five games.
See also: further developments. Double derp!
Lassiter High School, Marietta, GA:
High school senior, avid fisherman, and hopeful Air Force recruit Cody Chitwood leaves his tackle box containing fishing knives in his vehicle and drives to school. During a police sweep of the school parking lot, drug-sniffing dogs detect black powder from a firecracker left in his trunk, search the vehicle, and find the knives. Cody is suspended by school administrators (Principal Chris Richie & Superintendent Michael Hinojosa) for 10 days and charged (District Attorney Vic Reynolds) with a felony for bringing weapons into a school zone. On October 16, it was reported the felony charges were dropped, and Cody will be entering the Cobb County pre-trial diversion program. This possibly means community service and random drug tests, which makes total sense considering the original “infraction.”
Allatoona High School, Acworth, GA:
High school student Andrew Williams leaves a pocket knife in the center console of his car. Following accusations of drug use in his vehicle an assistant principal searched the car, finding the knife but no drugs. Andrew was charged with a felony for bringing a weapon into a school zone.
Park Elementary School, Brooklyn Park, MD:
7-year old Joshua, while eating a pastry for his snack, nibbled it into a shape he described as a mountain. His unnamed teacher determined it was in fact in the shape of a gun and sent him to the unnamed Principal’s office where he was given a 2-day suspension.
Lake Region High School, Naples, ME:
Ninth-grader Tracy Jannicelli was experiencing a headache and asked some fellow students if they had any Tylenol; one of them did and gave it to her. Assistant Principal Guy Stickney later questioned her about the “incident” then suspended her for 5 days. Not to be outdone, school Superintendent Candace Brown extended the suspension to 10 days and requested the school board consider if expulsion was warranted. On the recommendation of Stickney, the board expelled her for violation of zero tolerance drug policy.
Hodges Bend Middle School, Houston, TX:
Eighth-grader and Jonae Devlin was suspended for wearing a rosary bead necklace in violation of the school’s anti-gang dress code. The unnamed Principal gave her the choice to remove the religiously-themed neckwear or be expelled. She chose to stand by her principles.
Additional rosary bead incidents:
- 13-year-old Raymon Hosier of Schenectady, New York
- A 14-year old boy of Haverstraw, New York
Grand Island, NE:
Three-year old Hunter Spanjer, a deaf child, was asked to change how he signs his name using Signing Exact English (the sign language he is learning) because the extended index fingers apparently resemble a gun and was in violation of the school’s weapons policy. “We are working with the parents to come to the best solution we can for the child.” said Jack Sheard, Grand Island Public Schools spokesperson. Four days and several hundred angry phone calls and email later, the district decided to waddle back on the request while making a passive-aggressive swipe at the choice of sign language Hunter’s parents chose to use.
Harmony Community School, Harmony, FL:
Eight-year old Jordan was suspended for using his index finger and thumb as a play gun. School officials were conveniently unnamed in the article.
Virginia Beach, VA:
13-year old Khalid Caraballo and Aidan Clark as well as two other students were given long-term suspensions (read: until the end of the school year) for playing with an airsoft gun in their front yards. A neighbor reported the activity to 911, and things naturally snowballed from there.
Glendale Unified School District, CA:
The Glendale Unified School District has hired the firm Geo Listening to monitor social media accounts of its middle and high school students in an effort to, well, snoop.
The common thread in throughout these stories is the so-called “zero tolerance” policy related to real or imagined weapons, violence, drugs, alcohol, or various other scourges afflicting the children. The supposed feature is that punishment is inflicted automatically without regard to the circumstances of the “offense” and without the use of simple logic or common sense in determining whether the punishment is truly warranted, the intent being to use fear of draconian punishment to keep the little bastards in line. Some of these policies have spilled over the boundaries of school property and are being enforced 24/7 wherever the student may be. Private schools are more insulated, but are not completely immune to this madness. It is probably only a matter of time before even home-schooled children are affected.
Some cases receive widespread media attention which serves to shame the bureaucrats into backing down, but this is often the exception. In any event, it should not require such attention for these people to behave as reasonable and rational adults. Some families can afford to hire an attorney to fight the charges or sue the school district, but those on the poorer end of the economic spectrum have far more limited options.
There is evidence that these policies are not only ineffective, but may be harmful.
A secondary, but equally troubling theme in many of these stories are excuses of the variety, “my hands are tied, this is the policy/law/whatever.” I don’t doubt some of these individuals would dole out the same punishment regardless, but hiding behind a bureaucracy is no excuse for participation in morally repugnant behavior. Subjugating your integrity for job security is most assuredly not a quality we should be teaching our kids.
You may have noticed I have linked to contact information of the various authority figures involved in the above stories wherever possible. Interestingly, many of the news stories include the names of the students, but omit the names of the so-called adults doling out the punishment. I simply do not understand why these public officials should enjoy being shielded from accountability by the press in light of such odious behavior. I believe they should hear loudly, clearly, and frequently (but with a modicum of civility) that enough is enough. Your state and federal representatives should also be given an earful about the ridiculous and counterproductive laws supporting and mandating these policies. This stuff will not go away all by itself.
A Final Note:
I believe these zero tolerance policies are merely a symptom of a larger problem in our country, a confluence of tough-on-crime, lock them up and throw away the key attitudes and the belief that the law is always the best vehicle for addressing any undesired behavior. We are wasting our time, money, and labor on practices that are not only ineffective, but inefficient. We are damaging and destroying lives by attempting to control rather than addressing the more fundamental problems. These, however, are topics for another day.