We have a serious problem with our educational system. I’m not talking about the quality of the education. I’m not talking about price of an education. (Although both of those are problems.) I’m talking about out-of-control, power hungry administrators. School administrators have begun to overstep their authority and enforce ridiculous penalties on students. One of the worst examples of this practice is in many “zero tolerance” policies that are found in schools around the country.
Growing up I remember many fights during school. If you put that many children or adolescents in a building for that long, a few fights are inevitable. To combat these instances, schools began instituting zero tolerance policies on fighting that were similar to the policies many already had in place for drugs and weapons. According to these policies, any student caught fighting would immediately be suspended. These policies have resulted in many students unjustly being suspended from school.
In April of this year, 9-year-old Nathan Pemberton was suspended for defending himself from a bully. According to the report, Nathan had been reporting bullying to teachers and was told to simply, “walk away.” In this instance, the bully was punching and kicking Nathan when he decided to fight back. He punched the bully in the face, and the fight was finally broken up. Even though what he did would have been found to be self-defense in any court of law, Nathan was suspended along with the bully under the school’s zero tolerance policy.
It gets worse. In 2011, a 14-year-old student in Palm Bay, Florida received in-school suspension for hugging a friend. His school’s zero tolerance policy on hugging. You read that correctly. This school has a zero tolerance policy on kissing, hugging, and holding hands. According to their policy, there is no difference between an unwanted hug, or sexual harassment, and an innocent hug of affection between friends. The principal, who saw the hug and brought the children to the dean for punishment, even admitted that he believed the hug was innocent.
There are so many problems with these policies. First, schools are going well beyond what even courts are allowed by imposing penalties on students who are defending themselves against attackers. In some cases, penalties have been imposed on students for conduct that occurred off school grounds. In 2010, high school student Gary Tudesko arrived at school after a morning of duck hunting. He stored his unloaded shotgun in this truck. He knew that guns were not permitted on school property so he parked on a public street off the school’s property. Administrators found out about the guns in his vehicle and searched his vehicle with a private company’s scent detection dogs. Gary was expelled from the school for violating the school’s zero tolerance policy on weapons.
No charges were filed by district attorney’s office because no charges were warranted. This school conducted what amounts to an illegal search and seizure on public streets. They penalized a student for something that even the police and courts found to be within the confines of the law. Fortunately, in this case the board of education eventually reversed the school board’s decision to expel the student.
Another problem with these policies is that they remove children from the education that they need. In many cases, such as those cited here, removal from the classroom is unwarranted. As students spend more time away from school do to suspension or expulsion, they are more likely to drop out of school. This leads to a less educated population that hurts our society.
Finally, these rules are teaching our children terrible lessons. They teach children that specific institutions have the right to violate people’s rights. They teach children that showing affection for a friend is wrong, and is no different from sexual harassment. They teach children that you should suffer through abuse and violence without defending yourself.
These rules are the result of administrators attempting to avoid work. They don’t want to put the work into investigating an incident and making a rational decision based on the evidence. They simply want a blanket policy that exempts them from the liability of making a decision and defending their position. These schools are overreaching, under educating, and punishing children simply to make themselves look like they are doing something positive about the problems in schools. Some zero tolerance policies do belong in schools. Policies about illegal drugs and weapons on school property are positive. There is no justification for students having either of these at school. However, the addition of zero tolerance to every school policy is pure laziness. The majority of these policies should be eliminated and the administrators should be warned that lazy policies that bypass common sense and hurt our children will not be tolerated.