Zero Tolerance for “Zero Tolerance”


Henry expels girl who brought pills to school

Other students say incident was crying for help

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Henry County school officials have expelled a student from Union Grove High for the remainder of the academic year for taking an over-the-counter medication to school.

Bethany Frey, 14, a freshman, was dismissed on Wednesday after a disciplinary hearing. Her parents, Tom and Kelly Frey, are appealing the decision, which they say doesn’t fit the offense.

A hearing officer found Bethany guilty of giving false information, taking Aleve cold medicine on campus and distributing it to another child.

“The zero tolerance, I’m all for it,” said Tom Frey. “But these children are going to make mistakes. They are not adults. You have to look at it on a case-by-case basis.”

County district and Union Grove officials are sticking by the ruling and declined to discuss the specifics of Bethany’s case, citing student confidentiality rules.

“The school feels it handled it appropriately based on the information,” said Principal Rodney Bowler.

Union Grove made international news in the past year for suspending a student for pecking his girlfriend on the cheek in a school hallway.

Bethany had been on suspension since Dec. 5, when she took the tablet form of medicine to school, offered one to a friend and told others that she had taken a bunch of pills. Her friends reported it to school staff. She said Friday she took as many as 18 capsules.

District rules require students in possession of non-prescription medicine to notify school staff and prohibits them from distributing it.

The Freys say their daughter is devastated about the expulsion, which they believe may worsen her situation. Bethany, they added, is in counseling for possible depression and may be addicted to the medication.

Bethany said she gave the tablets to a friend because she couldn’t stop taking them. He passed them to another friend because he had no place to put them. That friend then took them to the school office.

“I think it was a little harsh,” Bethany said. “They didn’t seem to care that I have a problem. I went to one of my friends to get help.”

Tiffany Pabst, 15, who sought help for Bethany from school officials, says the situation has been blown out of proportion.”I’m shocked they expelled her,” Tiffany said. “We didn’t know how to handle it, so we went to the adults.”

The Death Of Common Sense

HUMAN JUDGMENT is flawed. But it is also imbued with the capacity for compassion, mercy and what was once admired as common sense.

Unfortunately, the “zero-tolerance” approach seems to be blowing across the land like a chill wind, sweeping away the human factor, and building in its place intricate laws, technology and blind force — blunt and stupid instruments, for all their so-called perfection.

In schools, for example, the ability to think and form moral judgments is being taken away from administrators (probably to their relief), and replaced by strict guidelines that promote “zero tolerance” for drugs, sexual misconduct and violence or weapons.

This may sound like a noble aim — certainly children should be warned that serious misbehavior will not be tolerated. But, by eradicating judgment, such a code leads to absurd injustices, punishments that are insanely disporportionate to the crime.

The Wall Street Journal cited some recent cases two weeks ago:

— A 16-year-old at Rio Rancho High School, near Albuquerque, N.M., was suspended for 45 days when a search of her handbag turned up a key chain, to which was attached a tiny penknife, with tweezers, toothpick and a one-inch blade. She was charged with “carrying a deadly weapon.”

— An 11-year-old in Oldsmar, Fla., was taken away in handcuffs for drawing pictures of weapons.

— A nine-year-old second grader in Stuart, Fla., was arrested and charged with the felony crime of aggravated assault for allegedly aiming a toy gun at a classmate.

And, of course, there are many others. The elementary school boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a girl classmate on the cheek. The teenager suspended for giving a Midol tablet to her friend. The high-school student ousted for possessing a weapon — a knife he had hidden in his locker after taking it from a classmate who appeared to be suicidal, probably saving her life.

People allowed to be compassionate would understand that human nature is complex. There are differing degrees of wrongdoing, and one punishment does not fit every crime.

The zero-tolerance movement has many permutations. It can be seen, I think, in the installation of technological devices designed to catch citizens in various forms of misconduct. At intersections in some cities, cameras automatically record who has passed through a red light, and computers send along a ticket.

Human judgment might understand there are extenuating circumstances that mitigate guilt: a car ahead inexplicably stops in the middle of an intersection, or a pedestrian crosses against the light. Zero tolerance doesn’t care.

In England, a housemaster at Eton College, the legendary prep school, set up a $28,000 night-vision surveillance system to catch smokers, according to The Sunday Times of London. “Using a console in his study, he was able to zoom in and admonish them by loudspeaker,” the newspaper reported. George Orwell (who attended Eton) could not have invented a more bizarre scene in 1984.

Meanwhile, students in some British schools are required to undergo “Smokerlyzer” breath tests to determine whether any of them have been smoking cigarettes.

The tendency to remove judgment can be found in our increasingly complex and intrusive laws. Massachusetts, for example, is mulling over “reforms” that will take away some of the freedom of judges to determine the proper punishment of crimes, on the grounds that some judges have shown too much leniency.

The tendency can be seen in an endless barrage of nanny state regulations, such as the one that just passed the Rhode Island House, making it illegal to use a hand-held cell phone in a moving vehicle. No sense letting people make decisions for themselves, and being held responsible for those decisions if they endanger others.

I can understand why the flight from judgment is occurring. Human beings are flawed creatures, prey to their prejudices, incapable of administering justice perfectly. Morever, those who make judgments are often held responsible for them. There is an element of fear in making independent decisions and being held accountable for them.

How much easier and safer is it to cancel out thought?

But independent judgment is required to say: That makes no sense, that is cruel, that is unjust, that would be wrong. I hope the society we bequeath to our children will leave enough room for people to say such things, and still be heard.

Edward Achorn

Free from free speech

Steve Chapman. Steve Chapman is a member of the Tribune editorial board.

Schoolchildren throughout the country begin each day by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, but school administrators are discovering that this practice has its risks. Many students, it seems, actually believe that stuff about liberty and justice for all–to the point of assuming they have liberties that may be exercised, even during school.

Heaven knows, countless schools have labored to eradicate this notion. Public school pupils have come to understand that their lockers may be searched, their urine chemically analyzed, their persons and belongings inspected by metal detectors, their backpacks and trench coats banned, and their words scrutinized for any hints of violent intent.

The zero-tolerance approach, also known as the zero-thought approach, has yet to run out of steam, even though it frequently turns school officials into targets of ridicule. Recently, a Maine girl got expelled for taking a Tylenol.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma went to court last year on behalf of a 15-year-old girl exiled for 15 days for allegedly putting a hex on a teacher. In Florida, an honor student was suspended last month for five days after someone spotted a steak knife in her car in the school parking lot.

Some kids just never learn. They continue to operate under the delusion that in supervising youngsters, school officials will formulate sensible rules and then apply them sensibly. Some students also endeavor to think for themselves, without first clearing those thoughts with responsible adults. When that happens, they are asking for trouble.

The most conspicuous current example can be found in the South, where dozens of districts have adopted dress codes forbidding students from displaying Confederate emblems. The ACLU of Georgia is representing nine students in Seminole County who were threatened with punishment for wearing T-shirts adorned with the rebel battle flag.

Never mind that schoolrooms across Georgia display exactly the same symbol–which happens to be incorporated into the state flag. If school officials want to brazenly exhibit a Confederate symbol, they’re allowed to. But letting students do the same thing of their own free will is another matter entirely.

Lawyers for the Seminole school district say they have nothing but good intentions. The student body is evenly divided between black and white, and many African-Americans understandably find Confederate emblems offensive.

The district, says attorney Sam Harben Jr., has the right to prohibit any student expression “that is disruptive of schools, or that presents a safety threat to other students.” Black students, he notes, have long been prohibited from wearing T-shirts with racial slogans or homages to Malcolm X, and for the same reason.

Based on what the Supreme Court has said, it’s true that the school district has a perfect right to restrict student speech to prevent riots, brawls, and general unrest. But the school district can’t ban any form of expression it wants just on the off-chance that it might generate a hostile reaction.

Wearing a slogan or symbol on a shirt is a form of expression that has some protection even in the halls of a public school. And absent some genuine likelihood of significant trouble, administrators are obligated to swallow hard, grit their teeth and put up with it.

That was the verdict in a landmark 1969 decision known as Tinker vs. Des Moines, which involved two youngsters suspended for wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. “There is no indication that the work of the schools or any class was disrupted,” noted the justices, overturning the suspension.

“Outside the classroom, a few students made hostile remarks to the students wearing armbands, but there were no threats or acts of violence on school premises.” Since there were no grounds to think the armbands would provoke unrest, there were no grounds for the school to ban them.

By the Seminole district’s own admission, Confederate flag shirts, which were only recently forbidden, have never caused any detectable trouble.

The rule was drafted just to head off the simple possibility that someday, they would. Idle anxiety, however, is not enough to nullify the free speech rights that, in this country, even juveniles enjoy.

Confederate flags–and Malcolm X shirts–may be loathsome to many people, but then so were antiwar symbols back when hundreds of American soldiers were bleeding to death in the jungles of Vietnam. The Constitution’s free speech clause doesn’t cover only those who have nothing controversial to say. School officials can’t censor certain types of expression just because it’s going to make someone mad.

Since Columbine, though, many school administrators would rather create a totalitarian environment than take any risk. Back in 1969, the Supreme Court announced, “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights … at the schoolhouse gate.

” In fact, school administrators make that argument all the time. This time, they may be wrong.

City school bans students from playing tag


Joseph Pantaleo loves to play tag, but the fifth-grader hasn’t figured out a way to do it without touching anyone.

The principal of his school, West Annapolis Elementary, outlawed the game in recess last fall because it violates the school’s “no touching” policy. A petition drive led by Joseph failed to change her mind.

“They would start up and inevitably it got too rough,” Principal Joan Brisco said. “The reason we stopped tag was because we didn’t want them getting hurt.”

After she received the petition signed by about a dozen students at the 270-student school, Ms. Brisco brought some of them, including Joseph, into her office to discuss the new policy. She also sent home a letter explaining it to parents.

Students may play tag during physical education, if their teacher chooses to lead a group game. Tag is no longer allowed during recess, however, because the game often grew too big and rough for adequate supervision.

But Joseph’s father, Dan, said tag should be allowed because other sports with more contact are still played at West Annapolis.

“In her mind, it’s a safety issue,” he said. “But there’s more physical interaction in a game of soccer than there is in tag.”

Huntley Cross, special assistant for alternative programs in county schools, said the principal has final discretion when it comes to safety.

“A … principal’s ultimate responsibility is not only education, but the health and safety of the students,” said Mr. Cross, who led the county’s discipline policies until recently. “Kids are rougher today, they really are. It’s a judgment call that every principal has to make.”

While Ms. Brisco referred to a “no touching” policy, Mr. Cross said there is no such policy countywide. He was unaware of any other county schools that don’t allow tag.

Although the county’s sexual harassment policy does prohibit “unwanted” touching, the concern with elementary school students is primarily rough-housing, which prompted Ms. Brisco to start her policy several years ago.

“There are good touches and bad touches that children are taught,” Mr. Cross said. “What we’re constantly trying to do is use structured discipline policies and logical consequences to let youngsters know what the rules are.”

– No Jumps-

Don’t admire a soldier – Big Brother is watching

Dave Mundy’s column

When you’re in a war, it doesn’t make much sense to give your children to the enemy for safekeeping, does it?

We are in a cultural war, we have done exactly that, and our enemies are brainwashing our children.

A report by The Associated Press Saturday tells the tale of a third-grade honor student in West Monroe, La., who was so impressed by a relative who is in the Army that he drew a picture of him holding a canteen in one hand and a knife in the other. He also drew a fort for the soldier to work out of, complete with a list of the fort’s inventory.

A teacher saw the drawing, and the boy was suspended by Lenwill Elementary School principal Edward Davis.

“It had hand grenades, knives and guns,” Davis told the AP. “We have zero tolerance for drawings with guns. We can’t tolerate anything that has to do with knives or guns.”

Give me a break: I guess it would have been fine if the kid had drawn a picture of a crossdresser, or maybe someone sabatoging an oil tanker as an environmental protest, right?

“I had to explain to him that owning guns and being in the Army is not bad,” the boy’s father, Raleigh Walker, explained to the AP.

I wonder if Principal Davis ever served in the Armed Forces. Pity, that we should allow such people to hold authority over children. The wrong person got suspended.

We have allowed the political leftism which pervades our college campuses to take root in elementary and secondary public education, where it is being passed along to kids as “fact” instead of theory. And as so often happens on college campuses, free speech and expression is only free and expressive for those espousing the “correct” (read that: “leftist”) views.

They practice the very same intolerance and totalitarianism they have for so many years accused political conservatives of supporting.

The clear-cut social mores of “right” and “wrong” espoused by traditionalists, for example – that’s “hatred,” that’s an intolerant limitation on self-expression, that’s naziism, that’s reactionary. Yet to freely express oneself in a manner which runs counter to the leftist ideals of socialism, pacifism, hedonism, atheism … by golly, that’s WRONG, and we have zero tolerance for that.

Be careful what you draw, say, or write: Big Brother is watching. He’s not the same Big Brother that George Orwell feared. He’s a Big Brother of the extreme left.

I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if this dictatorship of the left had been in place when I was in fifth grade, and compiled a whole collection of fanciful stories about soldiers, warfare and fighting, about superheroes, knights and conquerors.

At the time, the teacher loved them, and that reaffirmation was a catalyst in my decision to make a livelihood by writing – but what if she’d read them under today’s circumstances? Would school officials have suspended me, or suggested to my parents that I was in need of psychiatric counseling? Would I have wound up numbed by Ritalin or other psychotropic drugs?

Good Lord – and how would they have reacted the day I stood up to the school bully? On that occasion, I picked the fight, to prove to him that I wasn’t going to take it any more;

I punched him in the nose and bloodied it before he pounded me into a pulp, but he never again picked on me. In today’s climate, I’d be subjected to “zero tolerance,” given suspension instead of swats, then politically re-educated by Barney the Purple Dinosaur.

And you wonder why some kids flip out and gun down their classmates?

When admiring a relative who is obviously a proud member of our armed services becomes “wrong,” we need to worry – because it’s a sign that our democratic republic is in clear and present danger.

Pupil makes list of those she’s ‘frustrated’ with

ACLU criticizes girl’s suspension


RENO — The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada has criticized a 10-day suspension handed down to a Gardnerville girl for compiling a list of classmates with whom she’s “frustrated.”

Richard Siegel, the ACLU’s state president, accused Douglas County school officials of overstepping their bounds and over-reacting to the recent school shootings in San Diego County.

The Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School student was not taken into custody because a sheriff’s investigation last week concluded there was no immediate threat, said school Principal Robbin Pedrett.

The girl did not have access to guns or ammunition, and it’s unclear if she directly threatened anyone, Pedrett said. The girl regrets writing the list, she added.

“There’s nothing wrong with (school officials) acting on obvious threats,” Siegel said. “But this is absolutely absurd. To say someone is frustrated about teachers and students is not making a threat.

“This is a clear violation of her First Amendment rights. We’re creating a situation where students can’t express themselves in areas where it could very well be therapeutic.”

Pedrett defended the suspension, saying sheriff’s deputies considered the girl’s list of classmates’ names enough of a threat to investigate.

The students named on the list are being interviewed and also could face discipline, depending on the outcome of a continuing investigation, she said.

Citing students’ right to privacy, the principal declined to discuss specifics about the girl’s frustrations.

“It’s easy for the ACLU to say something when they don’t have 800 students and 42 teachers,” Pedrett said. “We don’t want a school shooting in our county, and we would rather err on the side of student safety.

“We owe it to our student body to investigate and that’s what we’re doing. Our concern is to see if she (suspended student) is safe and the others are safe. We’re trying to see how real the threat is.”

The suspended girl will be given a hearing after the investigation is completed.

The sheriff’s department learned about her list after receiving an anonymous tip from a parent.

ACLU officials have long accused school officials of over-reacting in such cases, saying the lack of uniform disciplinary guidelines is at the heart of the problem.

“In the absence of clear guidelines there will be some absurd intepretations as to what constitutes a threat or danger to students,” Siegel said.

“We’re concerned about both a failure to communicate genuine threats and the enforcement without guidelines where free expression and First Amendment rights are at stake.”

But Pedrett said the handling of the incident shows the school’s system to prevent violence works.

“We want to make sure our school is absolutely, positively safe. That’s the most important thing,” she said.

Education or incitement?

Thomas Sowell
March 30, 2001

What would you do if you had just three days to live? That was the question for an essay-writing assignment in an elementary school in Menlo Park, California.

One 11-year-old boy apparently felt that he had some scores to settle, for he wrote about people he would kill during those hypothetical three days. He was then arrested and taken into custody.

The threat of violence is itself a crime but, even for a hardened adult criminal, this situation could be considered “entrapment” — the authorities’ leading someone to commit a crime that otherwise might never have taken place. Locking up this student is part of a whole mindset about “prevention” — the notion that we can foresee and forestall school violence.

This conceit has been spread throughout the media and academia by shrinks, despite a lack of any hard evidence that they can actually do it, as distinguished from talking a great game.

Indeed, there is considerable hard evidence that they cannot do any such thing, for some of the young killers who have opened fire in various schools had been given a clean bill of health by shrinks before unleashing lethal violence against those around them.

Leaving the legal issue aside, what was this teacher doing giving such an assignment? Unfortunately, she was doing what all too many teachers in schools across the country are doing — playing games with children’s minds, instead of educating them. Nor are these mere aberrations of particular teachers. There are whole mind-game programs mass produced and mass marketed coast to coast.

Largely unknown to the public, the whole notion of education has been radically transformed over the years, so that it no longer means conveying the accumulated knowledge and understanding of a civilization, but shaping children’s psyches and indoctrinating their minds with politically correct ideologies.

Not only are there individual education gurus and ideological movements which promote the intrusion of such activities into the schools, the educators themselves are apostles of this new mission and the nationwide teachers’ union — the National Education Association — is pushing the same agenda.

The February issue of “NEA Today,” the union’s own publication, featured an Oregon teacher who created “a social justice curriculum” that teaches her predominantly minority students to focus on how “life is pretty unfair” and how “oppressed peoples” have been treated. She is not only a teacher but also one of the education gurus, since she has written a book titled “Reading, Writing and Rising Up.”

Even the use of standard English is presented as a form of oppression. “Standard language,” she says, “is about power — who has it and who doesn’t.”

It is much the same story on the other side of the country, where a Brooklyn public high school called the El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice pursued its ideological agenda by teaching the students how to spray-paint graffiti. Its students’ test scores are even lower than the below-normal scores for the city as a whole. But they had time to spare for graffiti classes.

Considering the severe academic deficiencies in too many minority schools — and the lifelong handicap that inadequate education will be for these children — one has to wonder what good it is going to do them to have school time used to make them resentful of society, rather than educated enough to function in it.

No doubt it may do teachers and education gurus a lot of good, if only by giving them a feeling of being morally superior and “agents of change.” Moreover, mind games and ideological indoctrination are a lot easier and more “exciting” than providing students with a foundation in math, science and English.

It is easy to understand why the education establishment has gone off on such tangents. What is harder to understand is why parents and voters stand for it. With the future of your children at stake, why would you allow yourself to be snowed by pious self-serving talk from people who call themselves “educators” but who are in fact not doing much educating?

With American school children repeatedly coming in at or near the bottom in international tests, why do elected officials act as if what the schools need is more money and more time — especially after ever-increasing amounts of money have already been poured down a bottomless pit over the years, with no visible educational results, and with so much time currently being squandered on “projects” and “activities” rather than education?


Zero Tolerance for “Zero Tolerance”

By Paul Rosenzweig and Trent England
None of these kids had criminal intent. All went to jail.

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