Can We Have Another Rant About Zero Tolerance Policies?

Relevant link:

The story: Sixth grader Adrionna Harris took a razor blade away from a classmate who was cutting himself. After convincing him that self-harm was wrong, she threw the razor blade away.

The next day (last Friday), convinced that she had done the right thing, she told school officials about the incident. The result? Based on her own report (and nothing else), she received a ten day suspension and was recommended for expulsion because she violated the school’s zero-tolerance policy on weapons.

It took the intervention of a local TV station to get her suspension hearing moved up and it looks likely that she will be allowed back into school tomorrow or Monday.

I’m left to wonder what the hell is wrong with these school administrators. Is there something about the word “zero tolerance” that causes them to lose all common sense? Do they lack the ability at all to tell the difference between a good deed and a bad deed? Do they even care that they are sending a message to kids of “don’t get involved, don’t do the right thing.”

Consider the following scenario: a man with a gun bursts into a high school and starts shooting indiscriminately. A student hits the guy on the head, causing him to drop his gun. The kid then picks up the gun and holds the guy at bay until the cops arrive. What would these school administrators do? They’d suspend and expel the kid, claiming zero-tolerance!

Granted, this kid didn’t hold off a shooter, but she did prevent further harm from coming to a fellow classmate. And, for that, she’s being punished.

Maybe it’s just me. Perhaps I’m the wacky one in thinking that school administrators and officials should be able to exercise judgement regarding the goings-on in their schools.

Zev Steinhardt


Thank you, Revtim. That was hysterical. :slight_smile:

Zev Steinhardt

I think parents with kids nailed for stupid shit like this need to start suing. This is freaking absurd as it is totally misinterpreting the reason for the policy, and then screwing up the actual implementation.

Stories as absurd-sounding as this one always make me wonder whether we’re getting the whole story, but I’m at a loss to imagine what pertinent details would make the school’s action reasonable.

When my son was in grade school he received a three day suspension. His crime was defending a mentally challenged student who was being beaten up by two kids. My son stopped the fight, hitting one of the boys (in defense) in the process. I argued with the school, but the zero tolerance policy prevailed.

So I took time off of work and took him places (a Pirate game, kayaking, etc). Might as well enjoy his punishment.

It’s not totally new. I used to get in trouble for defending myself back in the late 70s/early 80s. In many ways, public high schools were like prison: you see something, you keep it to yourself, and you don’t snitch.

I have a friend whose daughter was written up in fourth grade because she had a pair of fingernail clippers that had a nail file in them in her purse. She only avoided suspension because said friend raised eight kinds of hell.

I have the same problem with zero-tolerance as I have with things like “three strikes you’re out” and other programs: you get what they’re going for, but you also assume the administrators will exercise some damned common sense. However, officiousness and bureaucracy are damned near a sentient and self replicating species unto themselves in education.

The school administrators probably had their hands tied. I rarely see anyone place a zero tolerance policy on themselves. Somebody probably complained in the past that schools weren’t taking the problem seriously enough and enacted a zero tolerance law. Then the legislators and the public walked away and let the administrators take the heat for having to enforce the law when it clearly made no sense.

It seems to me that schools are where we send children to learn how to think, and having administrators paid not to think kind of runs counter to that claim. If they think taking a weapon away from somebody is exactly the same as carrying a weapon with intent to use it, then these administrators should be replaced.

The whole point of zero tolerance policies is to remove common sense, discretion, and judgment as tools.

I think the tone is off with this one. It seems to be that the girl was suspended due to some unspecified weapon policy until the school board could have a hearing about it. The school board than had that hearing and decided that the girl didn’t need to be suspended so now she’s back at school, which isn’t very dramatic or interesting.

So I guess there is a question how the nature of the policy, but I can’t find the policy in question who it’ll forever remain a mystery (or until someone better at this comes along.) Never mind. This is probably it:

And in the meantime, she’s missed a bunch of days of school and the rumor mill is buzzing about the poor kid who was hurting himself. But he’s collateral damage, I guess.

They could have “enforced” the zero tolerance policy by waiting to enact the suspension until after the hearing. Then they could officially throw out the charges at the hearing, leaving the policy intact, the girl in school where she belongs, and the other kid with the privacy he deserves. It would be a complete non-story.

I suppose it would be too much to expect the actions of the school to make sense, but this seems to be the policy of which the student ran afoul -

So that touching the razor blade constituted “handling” it, and thus

She has to be suspended or expelled. Because she touched it. Therefore “ye shall expel this evil from thy midst”. I can’t tell - did the kid who was cutting himself get suspended? He touched the Evil Artifact more than she did.


I agree it is stupid. Basically it’s an abdication of common sense so your never faced with grey areas and tricky decisions. Unfortunately life isn’t like that, if you don’t use your common sense and you refuse to see the shades of grey, very soon you start to do stupid things.

I propose a zero tolerance policy on zero tolerance policies!

That sounds very just in this case. I don’t know how well it applies as a broader policy though. I feel that, as a policy, removing students who’re written up on weapons-policy violations is a good policy. Yeah, it sucks for this girl that she fell through the cracks, but that’s why they allow the appeal.

Maybe the issue is that the person who started the suspension ball rolling made a poor decision. That could be the case, but without hearing why they decided to present the girl to the administration for disciplinary action, it feels wrong to condemn him or her.

When you read a story where it seems like everyone is brainless, I think it’s interesting to take a moment and think about it while assuming the people involved aren’t actually morons. See if it makes any sense in that context. I think this story may.

Same sort of thing happened to the son of an employee of mine in the military. He reported a kid for smoking pot and the kid assaulted him on the bus the next day. He defended himself as best he could and was suspended along with the other kid. My guy went down to the school the next day and asked the principal WTF? My kid did his civic duty by reporting this asshole, then he’s attacked and defends himself, and you suspend him? The principal gave him the ‘zero tolerance’ bullshit.

My employee told the principal “I work and my wife works. We have no way to care for him on short notice during the day if he’s not in school. So he’s going to be back here tomorrow, attending class. If I find out you’ve sent him home to be alone in the house, I’m going to come down here and show you what MY zero tolerance policy looks like.” That fixed the problem but I don’t recommend it unless you have no fear of being arrested.

Exactly. The school likely did this because it had no choice and the policy was mandated by superiors. It’s the school board or superintendent who that is to blame.

The point is that she shouldn’t even have been written up in the first place!

With zero tolerance there was never an opportunity for anybody to make a decision prior to the hearing. There is no option for the person who started the suspension ball rolling to look at the situation and say, “this is not the type of case this rule was intended for,” and let it go. It is zero tolerance. Any breaking of the rule, regardless of the circumstances, will initiate the consequences. It is a goto, not an if-then.

Everybody appears brainless, because the option to use their brain is removed. Unless they’re heartless, I’m sure the principal and teachers closest to this girl felt terrible about putting her through this. They know (or should know) that the rule isn’t intended for this type of situation, but they’re not given the ability to do anything other than suspend her.

As I’ve said before: anyone who uses Zero Tolerance as an argument should be considered redundant. If your management skills are no better than a lookup table that says “IF weapon THEN suspension”, then the school might as well fire your worthless ass and put the lookup table in charge.