Free Markets, Free People

Zero Tolerance


“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 Foxnews.com 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.

~McQ


0% Tolerance; 100% Nonsense

We’ve all heard the stories about students being suspended for bringing aspirin to school, etc., where administrators are tasked with enforcing a “zero tolerance” policy with respect to drugs, weapons, and the like. While being kicked out of school for a few days for bandying over-the-counter analgesics is bad enough, when kids who are otherwise good citizens are thrown into reform school you know things are really getting out of hand:

Zachary Christie is a six-year old student in Newark, Delaware who is facing 45 days in reform school because he brought his new Cub Scout eating utensil to school for lunch. The utensil includes a knife, and this violates the school’s brainlessly, robotically enforced zero-tolerance policy on “weapons on school property.”

I can sort of understand the school’s problem with Christie having a knife (although, if it isn’t a lock-blade, it’s use as a weapon is awfully questionable), but how on earth does that merit being sent to reform school? When I used to work with troubled kids in a alternative-education wilderness program (where most of the kids came to us through social services and/or the courts), they were allowed to have pocket knives, and these were the kids who were kicked out of every school they had ever attended. If they could be trusted with such a utensil, why is that a Cub Scout can’t have one?

If I were the kid’s parent, I would be looking to move as quickly as possible, because that sort of non-tolerance is simply intolerable.