Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Zero Tolerance is an Abuse of Justice

There, I wrote it.

I have written it before, although  maybe not so direct in Zero Tolerance is for Computers.

In the name of zero tolerance, mindless people in positions of authority blindly apply directives without regard for what makes us different from any other animal or plant on the planet: the ability to reason.

Today, I submit an article from yesterday's Baltimore Sun titled: Two Easton lacrosse players suspended under zero-tolerance policies.

Let me summarize the article for you--but I encourage you to read it for yourself.

Two high school lacrosse players were found to have contraband--a pen knife and a lighter in their lacrosse gear bags during a search of the players for alcohol before a game.  The items, as confirmed by the coaches, were used to repair their sticks during matches.  The boy with the pen knife, Graham, was handcuffed and charged as a juvenile with possession of a deadly weapon and suspended for 10 days.  The other boy, Casey, was suspended for one day for having a lighter which was classified by the school as an explosive device.

Another Baltimore Sun article summarizes the situation as follows:
"Talbot County residents are no doubt sleeping easier after the school system used a policy of zero tolerance for deadly weapons to crack down on two high school lacrosse players who were caught with a small penknife and a lighter used to repair their sticks. However, we feel it important to warn them that they still may not be safe. After all, we hear that the baseball and softball players bring dozens of long, aluminum clubs with them to games and practices. For that matter, children as young as kindergarten routinely carry sharp, wooden sticks, and there are even special machines in virtually every classroom to hone these "pencils" to murderous points."

Here is the problem--on the sidelines of lacrosse matches coaches and officials considered these to be tools of the sport. In the equipment bags on the bus headed to the game they were considered contraband by a school official.

The ramifications of the actoons of the principal on these boys' future college careers could be significant, by having to report a suspension on their applications.  Further aggravated by the school superintendent's letter to Graham's parents which read: ""Given the severity of this violation expulsion is warranted," she wrote to the family in a letter in April. But because of extenuating circumstances, she said, she would allow the student to return to school after 10 days."

Really?

This is mindless application of rules without engaging the brain.

And people wonder why educators (think about this for a moment), are held in low esteem by many people.  The very people who should be advocating for the application of reason and common sense are the very ones mindlessly applying rules without thinking--is a pen knife in a lacrosse bag really a dangerous weapon for which a high school senior should be suspended? Especially when it is used as a tool and has been approved for use as a tool by other educators (the coaches)?  And then the superintendent writes a letter like what was written.

And don't forget--Graham served the entire suspension (missing valuable teaching time) while his parents attempted to appeal after being given erroneous information about not being able to appeal. So whether he is cleared or not and ultimately gets his record expunged--the punishment was served.

Casey is also working to get his record expunged, too. The school handbook, reportedly, does not define a lighter as an explosive device.

What is the message here?

Maybe going to college makes people dumber?

No the real message is that we need to be able to apply rational thinking to situations and not hide under a zero tolerance policy.
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