Free Markets, Free People

“Zero Tolerance” May Cost Eagle Scout West Point Opportunity

I think this case may actually be more representative of what Michael was trying to get across the other day in his post about the 6 year old’s eating utensils:

As a 17-year-old Eagle Scout continues to wait out a one-month suspension from his upstate New York high school for having a 2-inch pocketknife locked in a survival kit in his car, the U.S. Military Academy says the missed school days could pose a big problem when it reviews his application.

Yes, you read it right, the two inch knife, a gift from his grandfather, was in a locked car in a survival kit. Ironically, the knife is not even considered to be a “weapon” by the New York State Education Department definitions. But that didn’t stop the school from suspending Matthew Whalen for 5 days when they found out he had the knife in his car.  It later tacked on another 15 days after a hearing (he must have stood up for himself).

Whalen has plans to apply to West Point but is concerned this suspension will hurt him when the review process is done:

On Wednesday, West Point’s director of admissions told that Whalen’s suspension alone wouldn’t be a “show-stopper” and “didn’t appear to be a big issue” for the youth, though it will appear on his record as the military academy considers his moral and ethical fiber.

“My concern would be, how does this impact on his academics?” said Col. Deborah McDonald, the academy’s head of admissions. “Because 20 (school) days is a long time to be suspended.”

And it goes without saying, in an environment as competitive as being admitted to West Point, this could knock him out of the running.

Says the Superintendent of Schools in Troy, NY:

But the Lansingburgh School District is not budging. A person reached at the home of a school board member referred all calls to the superintendent, who told a local newspaper he thinks the punishment was “appropriate and fair,” and that it was necessary for the district to enforce its zero-tolerance policy evenly.

“Sometimes young people do things they may not see as serious,” Superintendent George Goodwin told the Albany Times-Union. “We look at any possession of any type of knife as serious.”

“Appropriate and fair”? A 2 inch knife locked in a car is “serious” enough to warrant a 20 day suspension?

That’s absurd. And so is hiding behind the “we must enforce the policy evenly”.

New York State, by the way, doesn’t require rigid adherence to “zero tolerance” or “even” enforcement. Apparently they think the districts should have discretion over how the policy is enforced, implying at least, that it expects its administrators to use their freaking heads when they consider each case and not make more of something than it really is, such as this case.

Meanwhile a seemingly good kid who wants to go to West Point is watching his chances melt away while the idiots hiding behind “zero tolerance” rule refuse to reconsider the 20 day suspension:

“The board hasn’t even taken the issue,” said Bryan Whalen, Matthew’s father. “As far as the superintendent is concerned, he’s made his decision and we haven’t been offered the opportunity to even appeal that at a board meeting.”

This is a text book case about why “zero tolerance” is, on its face, an absurd policy that can and does end up hurting good students. Superintendents have a responsibility to the students in their district and hiding behind inflexible rules that hurt those students instead of doing the hard work of fairly judging the situation and giving an appropriate punishment (if punishment is deemed necessary) is an abrogation of that responsibility.

It is my considered opinion that Superintendent George Goodwin should be suspended without pay for 20 working days for being an irresponsible administrator more interested in ducking the situation than doing what is right for his students.  It is time to scrap “zero tolerance” and put administrators back to work using their heads instead of hiding behind inflexible and in many cases, stupid rules.



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38 Responses to “Zero Tolerance” May Cost Eagle Scout West Point Opportunity

  • I don’t really see how it makes a difference that this young man is an Eagle Scout anyhow.

    Suspending ANYONE for having a two inch pocket knife locked in the trunk of his car is stupid. If they’re hitting this guy hard just so they have the moral cover to suspend the gang-banger who does the same thing it hardly absolves them of being complete idiots.

    • It is a quick way in a short article to give an indicator of the person’s character, Synova. It really has no bearing on the point about zero tolerance per se.

  • I’ve always wondered if this is from two things

    1) Teachers are so repressed against administering discipline, when they get a chance they unload with a hammer when gentle nudge is all that’s needed per the specifics that situation. As if coming down with the hammer will make up for their inability to administer discipline at other times they are prevented.

    2) Primarily violent gang ridden schools which are often dominated by minorities would get a higher rate of punishment administered. Some twisted kind of moral equivalence is being applied that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Or that some lawyer will point out that punishment is being handed out against minorities at a higher rate and say that racism is being applied. So they crutch on a objective binary standard.

    There’s a third option, they are power mad [censored] that have a new toy. But they’ve always been a part of the situation and you find them everywhere.

  • Seems to me the way to get these regulations changed would be to enact zero-tolerance regulation of teachers and administrators. Live by your own rules.

  • I agree compltly with all sentiments expressed, bu i have 1 question. Why did the school know about the 2 inch pocket knife in a survival kit?

    • The article says he kept a sleeping bag, MRE, and survival kit in the car. Probably a case of another student saying something about it.

  • …which was locked in a private car?

  • JWG’s commentary in the other thread illuminated the problems educators face when administering discipline.
    In today’s sensitive world, violators of rules – fair or unfair – must be dealt with equally and uniformly; otherwise, educators can be accused of bias/racism/favoritism etc…
    I don’t necessarily think it’s right, just that it’s the nature of the beast today.

    Back in my day, Suzie Straight A’s garnered a little more slack if she drifted; rather than Mahone the miscreant, whom teachers were more than happy to lay down the hammer.

    Heh… I remember my math teacher was sure that I was the one who stole money from her purse. I didn’t do it. But I was suspended for three days anyway, despite having no evidence.

    I confess I did know who did though. And I didn’t rat. I thought the crabby bitch deserved it…
    But I digress.


    • “Back in my day, Suzie Straight A’s garnered a little more slack if she drifted; rather than Mahone the miscreant, whom teachers were more than happy to lay down the hammer.”

      They still do dude, they still do. I personally know a National Merit Honor scholar who was allowed to walk scott-free after stealing, and drinking, a bottle of wine contrary to the zero tolerance school policy on alcohol and underage drinking on or off campus.

      There was a looker related miscreant involved in the incident who spent time in the Alternate Education Program while his lady love continued her normal education. Of course we weren’t allowed to cite the handling of the other case you know, it was all a private matter and they weren’t allowed to discuss it.

      • They still do dude, they still do.

        I believe it.
        And on the other side of the coin, I knew a kid who was the worst offender of us all; but because of his charisma and academic prowess, skated through school – despite being caught for numerous violations – on the thickest and smoothest of ice.
        His name was, appropriately or ironically – depending your perception, “Christian.”

        I’m convinced that the dude could get away with murder.

        It all just proves that this is just another one of those f*cked up real life conundrums that we all have to grin and bear it.


        • I had nuns for teachers in a catholic elementary school. Their approach to everything was a good right hand. The mother superior predicted that I would end up in reform school then graduate to prison.

          I ended up as an infantry officer after high school then later a CTO in a software company.

          You never know where a kid is going to go (especially the bad ones) but to deny the possibility that they can turn things around ….

    • I am sure it is all part of what made you the loveable rogue we know today. 🙂

  • I sent the cowardly superintendent a nice little email telling him what I thought of him and his actions. Okay, maybe it wasn’t so nice, but I did manage to refrain from simply sending a long string of invective.

    Not that I expect it to make any difference. There is no way this guy is going to back down now.

  • Several things askew here. I don’t doubt the stupidity of the school administration, that’s a given these days. But, Academy slots are “appointments” in large measure. Each congress-critter and each senator gets to appoint a student from their district. Some choose competitive appointment, but that isn’t handled by the academy usually. Many choose direct appointment.

    There are some other routes such as athletic scholarships, the inevitable affirmative action programs, children of Medal of Honor recipients and some routes for POW/MIA kids and children of career military folks. Most however are (or at used traditionally were), congressional appointments.

    Beyond that, I don’t think the WP admission board would give a hoot about such stupidity. I also think that the process would be well completed before his absence during suspension would have adverse impact on his grades.

    This is fine for illustrating idiocy in zero tolerance, but the “human interest” angle of Eagle scout jeopardized on West Point dream looks bogus.

    • All applicants have to have recommendations, but appointments? Like the Senator from your state gets to *decide*?

      I think not.

      • Put it this way… If you don’t get picked by your congress-critter, you have about a 1% chance of getting in, and if you aren’t God Damn Perfect, you won’t get it.

        This isn’t some state school where the top 10% automatically get in, or some JuCo where you just need a pulse, this is the big time, and competition to get into WP makes a gangland turf war look like tour of the coma ward.

        • I once looked at the entrance requirements for the Air Force Academy and am aware that I would have needed a recommendation from a Senator from my state. I didn’t see that as a difficulty. (My academic record and lack of sports participation convinced me applying was a pointless exercise.)

          But that’s not what the claim was. The claim was that the Senator *appointed* students to the service academies. A recommendation or an endorsement is *not* an appointment!

          • It may have changed, but when I attempted to get into the AF Academy (a long time ago) I applied through IL Senator Paul Douglas (that’s a hint on how long ago!). I was runner-up the first year and got his appointment the following year. All I had to do was accept and show up in June. That was congressional appointment.

            Currently each member of Congress gets five appointments. Since requirements have been reduced, not all get admitted anymore, but with the congressional appointment and reasonable credentials you are in.

  • I’d hope -and expect- the parents and community to raise h*ll about this if this is really a case of injustice. But we don’t know the whole story (why the extra 15 days?) so who knows. It sounds ridiculous though. You gotta wonder how they even discovered it was in his car? Maybe someone is looking to stir the pot a bit here?

  • I don’t think we are hearing the entire story.

    How did the school find out about the knife, if it was locked in a survival kit in his car. The facts as stated do sound absurd. But they’d sound a little less absurd if, and I’m obviously just making this up since I have no idea, the eagle scout threatened some other student by saying, “look punk, I have a knife in my car.” In that case, the suspension might be totally warranted.

    I’m *NOT* implying that the student threatened someone. Just that *something* happened that cause the school to find out that he had a knife.

    • Honestly?

      It was probably a scheduled drug dog visit.

      They probably searched the trunks of all the cars, just like they search lockers, on account of they are on school property.

      They can do that you know.

      (And yes… freedom and liberty die a little more every day.)

      • But to search the car they would still need the dog to “hit” on it. They don’t have freaking trunk keys to every student’s car.

        They only way to know about the knife would have been to break into the car (I believe the CAR is still considered private property, regardless of it being on school property), or to be told by some other student about the knife.

        And whoever that student was, they need have a little sit-down about “not being a complete tool”.

        • PA Announcement: “This is the Principal. All students with cars assemble in the parking lot.”

          Why would they need a drug dog *hit*? Just ask the student to open their trunk.

          You’re not under the illusion that they need reasonable cause or something, are you?

          • Because it isn’t a school provided locker, inside a school building. It is a privately owned bit of metal, plastic, glass and rubber sitting in a parking lot. The cops can’t search your car on the driveway if they arrest you in your home, and they can’t compel you to open your trunk.

            Principle: “Open your trunk.”

            Student: “Right after I see a warrant. And a cop, since you don’t have the authority to order a search anyways.”

            Say it with me: “probable cause”.

            And anyways, that isn’t what happened, which you would know if you had read the God Damn Story. He was called into the office, asked about the knife, a conversation took place, they went to the car and no one else was there. no cops, no dogs, nadda.

  • Does this school have a HomeEc program? A cafeteria? A shop class? Despite what they might like to think, knives exist in those environments.

    Zero tolerance means Zero , right?

    Fools, the whole whoreson lot of them. Cowards, as well.

    I would, however, rather face a 1-1/2″ knife than a baseball bat ( no suspension there) or some quick-whip fulminated mercury.

    If I were to search the faculty cars, would I find a boatload of weed that would violate the zero tolerance policy?

    You know that answer.

    • I’d rather face the 2 inch knife than a 6 inch pencil, or tire iron, or the car itself. Pretty sure i would lose against the car, especially if he got the jump on me with it.

  • Tolerant policies can allow for mismanagement and biased outcomes but only if the people involved in making the decisions are there with that inappropriate intent.

    Zero Tolerance Policies are made to protect weak leaders from having to make difficult decisions and if they can’t make those decisions, then they aren’t really considered leaders at all.

  • Why anyone would want to join up to put his life on the line for a nation of retards and weasels is beyond me.

  • I used to bring my gun to school, put it in my locker, and then go out hunting after school. No one cared, and no one thought it was unusual.

    Our rights have been eroded in a stupid attempt to remove all risk from our lives, something that cannot be done.

  • Similar case in Texas a few years back – girl moved her Grandmother, had a box they overlooked in the car during the move. Sitting locked, on the school lot.

    Box had kitchen knives, visible.

    And it ended up exactly where this did.

    At my kids school they have a security guard on the lot, they DO wander around and LOOK in the cars.

  • Why do they pay these superintendents six figure salaries when they don’t exercise any sort of discretion or judgement? You can get that for minimum wage.

    What can do more damage, a car or a two inch knife? It’s not my school district, or I would be at the next meeting asking my awkward questions.

  • This is the second time I’ve posted this: Please change your style for new links. I’m tired of having to mouse over the text to find the links when the style changes. There’s a reason default styles always underline and color change links. Although previously followed links are a clearly different color and underlined, new links are not underlined, and have a color very similar to the surrounding text.

  • When are we going to start practicing “Zero Tolerance” on the cement head in Congress, the Federal, state and local police, our executive branch…?

    Who are the masters? Not us!

  • One word: Homeschool.

    They should send letter of intent to the district superintendent (requires 14 days notice, so he’s still going to be out of school that long) and homeschool him for the 20 days after the end of semester. Then do the proper testing with a qualified test administrator (practically any teacher) and issue him a diploma yourself. After that tell the district to take a flying hike off a tall cliff, and go on with submission to USMA.