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As Long as We Remember...

May 19, 2005

A Zero Intelligence Policy

Edward Lulie III

Zero Tolerance, doesn’t that sound good? Ever popular with politicians and our Frederick County Board of Education, it is in reality an idiotic scheme used to protect administrators from making the tough decisions. It’s really a “we don’t have any responsibility” policy.

This has led to a number of remarkably stupid, irresponsible decisions and suspensions. Am I being too harsh, too “mean spirited”? Consider the following!

Consider the case of Student “J,” who encountered another female high school student in the bathroom brandishing a knife and talking about hurting herself. After a few minutes of work the suicidal girl was disarmed and calmed down. Student “J” then took the knife to the office and reported the incident.

So did Student “J” get an award ceremony? A framed letter of appreciation for the quick thinking and intelligent intervention that might have saved a life? No. Student J, who talked the other student down and took the knife away, gets awarded a three-day suspension.

That’s right, suspended for three days. Why? Because Student “J” had given them a knife and that violated the “zero tolerance policy.”

Is insane too strong a word? Can any sane individual justify this perversion of justice?

Consider, then, what happens when a student who leaves home with a Sudafed in his pocket from Mom and doesn’t get a note; caught taking it in school (or just having it in school) and BAM, another notch. (Sorry, Emeril) Suspended. No justice or thought need apply. ZERO Tolerance!

As a lawyer not enamored of the rush to abandon our civil rights, I believe that this policy clearly violates a student’s rights. We love to forget that students are also citizens and actually have rights. Worse is that this is also teaching our children that getting involved is stupid; so when a problem on the zero tolerance list comes up, our students have learned to see nothing, hear nothing and say nothing.

Students are learning to avoid getting suspended by never getting involved or taking responsibility. This is the real life consequence of enacting a quick fix; one size fits no-one policy.

There is no rational excuse for having a policy that provides no initial requirement for a “trial” or “hearing” before prescribed absolute penalties are imposed. But having a hearing means dealing with the fact that some circumstances merit punishment and some don’t; far easier on administrators to just punish everyone than to have make a decision or take responsibility.

The idiocy shows what happens when good intentions empower our socialist brothers and sisters in the administrative wing.

It’s true we that don’t want a shooting disaster to happen in our schools. Yet we need to have a rational approach to weapons and drugs that doesn’t allow those in authority to always avoid making decisions.

Consider warning kids in possession of non-CDS (controlled dangerous substances) rather then just automatically suspending them? How about deciding the circumstances and history of the student; a kid bringing in a non-firing weapon shouldn’t be treated like a kid actually bringing a loaded gun into school.

Weapons are a part of our culture and history. I well recall the principal of one local school decreeing that anything representing or displaying a weapon (t-shirt, poster, hat) was barred from school grounds. This dictate came from someone sitting in an office 10 feet from a large statute of a Knight (the school mascot) complete with shield and sword. Apparently getting educational credentials doesn’t require you to actually be able to think.

Until this idiocy is overturned, I suggest that the parents of anyone caught in this zero-tolerance nonsense consider taking immediate action and filing a law suit. It is really amazing how quickly the school board and educators can see the light when they have to explain things to a judge. The result, however, is almost always the same; they fold in that particular case and go right on doing the same thing to everyone else. The policy remains unchanged.

So what are we teaching our kids? They have now learned that when they encounter something covered by “zero tolerance” their best course of action is to just look away.

Our first line of defense against disasters in school has always been the common sense of the students themselves. Now that’s being destroyed. The students are the first ones to encounter problems with other students, long before the teachers or administrators see it.

Instead of instilling a sense of responsibility and consideration for others, the policy teaches students to ignore and look away. Authority becomes something that is ridiculed and mistrusted; because it can not be trusted. The “Zero Tolerance” policy destroys the very values that citizenship is supposed to teach us. Oh, that’s right, we don’t teach citizenship anymore.

What lesson do you think Student “J” was taught by “zero tolerance?” Is it a lesson you think we should keep on teaching? Or is it time for voters to send their own message about “zero tolerance;” a message that even school administrators and politicians can understand.

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