Another ZT Success Story

I’ve long railed against Zero Tolerance in True, with the first such story appearing way back in 1995. And there have been plentymoresince.

Now, there is an update to a ZT story in the 19 July 2009 issue about high school coach Brad Young. Before getting to that, here’s that story:

Selective Enforcement

When Brad Young, 44, the softball coach at Walkersville (Maryland) High School, hosted an end-of-season party for his team, his house became an extension of Frederick County Public Schools property, the school district says. And since some of the parents brought beer to the party — no students drank it, Young didn’t have any, and no parents became inebriated — the coach violated the district’s “zero tolerance” drug-free, alcohol-free and tobacco-free policy for having alcohol on “school property” and has been fired. Young was a coach at the school for five years, and since he has another job as a financial planner, donated his school salary to his team — buying them uniforms and jackets, equipment, and throwing parties. In that time he said he was never given a copy of the school policy that would have made his house school property because he was engaged in “official duties.” Young says such a policy could apply just about anywhere. “The superintendent could be at a Chamber of Commerce meeting sitting next to someone with an alcoholic beverage,” Young said. “She’s there in her official capacity as school superintendent and she’s representing the school system. Is she in violation of this policy and will she get fired?” A district spokeswoman refused to consider the scenario, saying only “I’m not going to interpret policy.” (Frederick News-Post) …Then I will: Yes, and No.

The Update

Young was probably smart to posit a scenario about the Superintendent. Sure enough, she has overturned the principal’s decision to fire him. It took a month for it to hit the papers (Supt. Linda Burgee said she was “curious as to why this is just now in the news. Mr. Young received my decision the first week of August.” — yet she didn’t hold a press conference on the subject until September 3.)

The bottom line, though, is some people, even school district employees, do have the guts and the common sense to say so when zero tolerance dictates something that’s out and out wrong. And society — all of us — need to acknowledge it when they go out on a limb and reverse such decisions long after they’ve been forgotten by the short-attention-span public.

There are far too few of these decisions, but with the recent anti-ZT Supreme Court decision, the tide may have subtly turned.

It didn’t hurt that Burgee got more than 1,000 letters and emails supporting Young: public pressure works!

When people ask me what they can do to fight ZT, I keep saying the same thing: make your voice heard! Tell the people that are destroying lives under the color of ZT that it’s wrong, and must be corrected. And if they don’t listen, tell their boss — or vote them out, in the case of elected officials. Your voice does matter. Because if the public officials don’t hear from you, they figure you don’t care.

So, Supt. Burgee: kudos for doing the right thing. Next time, though, issue a press release right away, will you? Because you can bet there will be a next time!

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16 Comments on “Another ZT Success Story

  1. It’s great to see that some common sense was actually able to trump ZT stupidity. Something occurred to me now as I read the story again tho. In reference to Young’s comment about the policy applying anywhere, one has to wonder if they’d try applying it when a teacher/counselor went to a student’s house on “official duties”?

    I’d guess you already know the answer to that! -rc

  2. The truly sad thing is that it would have been perfectly possible for the school to write up an official policy that simply prohibited the consumption of alcohol at any school-related event attended by students. (You’d need common sense, of course, so that you didn’t prevent your football team from having dinner on the road at a restaurant serving alcohol to an unrelated party at the next table.)

    (That still doesn’t explain why it was Young instead of the parents who got the book thrown at him, unless there’s more to the story than the press reported.)

    The lack of common sense, though, is what these ZT stories are all about.

    P.S. Why on earth does it matter that Young donated his salary back to the school? Do people only get outraged about ZT idiocy when it happens to popular figures? (OK, I shouldn’t have asked….)

    It’s still a fair question. One common criticism of my ZT stories is, What If they had real problems with a bad student/teacher/staff and the ZT thing was just a way to get rid of them, when other methods have failed? The answer: at least in the cases I’ve been writing up, there’s no real sign of that. They’re popular, and upstanding, giving, talented, positive people to have around, whether honor students, teachers who donate their salaries back to the school, or whatever. You’re right that it “shouldn’t” matter, but no, they’re not just using ZT as an excuse to get rid of someone terrible, they’re using ZT to get rid of someone who’s wonderful. -rc

  3. Young was definitely smart to put forward a hypothetical, which was the proper way to point the finger at the policy, rather than at the person who had done the firing. It doesn’t matter that whoever fired him is actually at fault, but if you want your job back, don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

  4. Few things gets my dander up more than the idiocy of Zero Tolerance! Although the Superintendent made the correct decision to reinstate Coach Young, she needs to take the thought process one step further and fire the Principal for HER poor decision making.

    Here you have a well-liked member of your staff, he’s basically been working for FREE for 5 years while giving his team the essential and non-essential (but nice to have) equipment AND he’s on his own PRIVATE property WITH his students’ PARENTS in attendance (pretty much one-up on ANY school permission slip). Are all graduating Seniors in danger of being expelled or losing their diplomas when they have a Graduation Party and the adults bring alcohol to consume?

    If this is an example of the types of decisions coming out of the Principal’s office, I would have serious questions about her competency. I mean, I could understand it IF the party was busted by the police, IF someone got drunk and caused an accident or IF one of the girls was hurt in any way, but the only way the school was embarrassed was by the Principal’s own inept decision.

    It’s gratifying to know that THIS ZT situation was handled with a modicum of sense and, yes, tolerance!

  5. I’m taken aback a bit by this update. After reading the original story, I looked up Brad Young and found him on Facebook…wrote to him and added him to my friends. He also had a group page on Facebook in support of the two coaches affected by the ZT action.

    All of Coach Young’s friends and supporters on Facebook were anxiously awaiting word of his reinstatement after his hearing with Superintendent Linda Burgee (July 30), waiting all through the month of August, many of us expressing dismay that he had not heard her decision yet. Brad himself posted a few times during that period that he was still waiting, and he did not announce the rehiring until September 3rd. So if Superintendent Burgee was telling the truth ~ that she informed Brad of this early in August ~ then she must’ve instructed him to be silent about it for more than a month! Something doesn’t add up.

    In any case, I’m delighted that he and fellow coach Danny Cleveland were rehired (the latter was just announced yesterday!)

    I hope you will point coach Young to this page. He should know his support is widespread. -rc

  6. When I first read this, It occurred to me that one way to make the point would be for an irked parent to bring a 6 pack to a school board meeting with the superintendent present. That would make the superintendent ‘guilty’ of the same crime.

    Better: a parent or group of parents show up at the superintendent’s home claiming to want to talk about official school business, and then point out the bottle of wine in the fridge.

    I am relieved (and disappointed) that the issue was resolved without the need for guerrilla cleverness.

  7. You mentioned in your reply the Aliza’s comment that there is often a query about what if the person had actually done something wrong and ZT was just a way of getting rid of them.

    As a former union steward I have seen a lot of cases where someone should legitimately have been sacked for something they did, or failed to do, but management have gone for them on something unrelated because it was ‘easier’. In the vast majority of these cases the person has kept their job, or successfully appealed and either been taken back or compensated, because the case that was brought was either bogus or fatally flawed. If management later go after that person for what they actually did then that case is tainted by the earlier failure and is open to accusations of victimisation and falsehood (“They’ve made things up before, look what they’re making up now!”) so making it harder to prove.

    That is not a hypothetical, a few years ago I helped a friend who is a parent-governor at the school his children attend in preparation of a case to sack a teacher who had been found to be committing offenses involving inappropriate sexual behaviour with a child. Two previous attempts to sack him for other things (technical breaches of procedure, not quite ZT but close enough) had failed because there was no evidence. This meant that when the case for what he had actually done was brought it was tainted with a suspicion of victimisation and harrassment. Even the police and crown prosecution service were loathe to get involved because of the stigma.

    ZT is seen by those who use it as easier. They don’t have to think, they don’t have to investigate, they don’t have to look at mitigation, they don’t have to provide evidence that can survive even cursory (let alone rigorous) examination and testing. All they have to do is say what they thought they saw, not bothering themselves with the actual facts, and let the knee jerk reaction take effect. This serves nobody (especially not the wrongly accused nor the actual victims) except possibly the lawyers billing hours to deal with appeals and counter suits. It certainly does not serve justice.

  8. The tragedy of these incredibly stupid examples of ZT is that ZT is really needed for real problems. As a 38-year teacher in public schools I’ve seen far too many incidents where assault, battery, possession of real weapons or open alcohol and a variety of crimes that would get children arrested at the mall are excused by administrators because “he didn’t mean to bring that gun” or because the parents had social status or wealth or political connections. Zero Tolerance for knives should extend to a sharpened screw driver, but not to a 1/2″ pocket knife left in a pair of jeans after a camping weekend. Zero Tolerance should apply to a student who repeatedly (for 3 years) threatens another in subtle, sneaky and vicious ways, but not to the victim who finally slugs him once after three years of requests for a “restraining order” have been ignored by the principal. And perhaps most pernicious is the bullying. Years ago I worked with an African-American assistant principal who rightly responded quickly to verbal assaults involving racism, but totally ignored similar homophobic character assassination as “just funning”. One such problem festered for over 2 years with the gay (quiet, scholarly) boy suffered his daily humiliation from the brassy bully in silence. When he decided, rationally, to respond with a well-placed punch he was charged with assault and the verbal assaulter was treated with care and concern.

    I wish I had a dollar (inflationary value) for every minor but real incident that was not addressed which later blew up into a real fight where early counseling or negotiation could have resolved the real or imagined problem.

    The problem with ZT is it’s an excuse for administrators to add another knee jerk and not think.

  9. Bill from Davidson, NC is absolutely correct in his assessment of the need for true and logical ZT. There seems to be no logic applied at the “Principal” level today.

    10 to 15 years ago, I volunteered at my children’s elementary school to help supplement the teacher in helping students with their classroom work. There were a couple of children who would disrupt while everyone else was trying to complete the work, so I would end up in a glorified broom closet with the disrupting students haranguing me, instead of sending them to the Principals office for discipline or detention. The teacher actually told me that they were specifically told NOT to send the children to them and that it was the teacher’s job to deal with the situation (all while trying to teach 27 OTHER students).

    Middle school was better, but high school was even worse. I actually witnessed 6 boys jump one boy in the library at the start of my youngest daughter’s senior year while picking up her schedule and the teachers and counselors just stood around watching until a beefy gym teacher finally showed up. I was amazed and dumbfounded. This wasn’t the first time issues came up. We actually had at least two first-rate teachers resign because of the lack of control the administration had over the ‘children’, one actually had a nervous breakdown after teaching for 15 years.

  10. Bill, what you are describing is the exact opposite of Zero Tolerance. What you are describing requires someone at some level to make a decision about when something that seems not ok is, in fact, excusable (Though there are those that would argue that punching someone in the face is never excusable, even when it is understandable.)

  11. Zero Tolerance rules are for people that don’t want to think. When a ZT rule is enforced for something like a kid that punched another kid for being harassed for a long time and he is expelled it’s both totally unfair and unjust. If the kid that did the punching does get back into school and gets harassed again the next time he won’t be punching the kid he might be pulling out a gun.

    ZT rules don’t protect kids from other kids they create problems more then they resolve them. It also can create an atmosphere where kids can feel helpless and alone, especially of they retaliate and get punished for it and the other kid gets nothing.

  12. From someone who just got out of that state funded hellhole (Loudoun Valley High School), I would like to extend a personal “Fuck-you-all-and-die-in-a-hole” to every administrator of the LCPS system. You fuckers don’t even WANT to think, you just send every kid, like me, who has a nervous breakdown due to harassment to a fucking SHRINK instead of investigating the matter like the lazy fat ass FUCKHOLES YOU ALL ARE! YOU ARE LOWER THAN DIRT, AND I HOPE FOR THE SAKE OF EVERY KID OUT THERE YOU LOSE YOUR FUCKING JOBS AND LIVE BELOW THE POVERTY LINE FOR THE REST OF YOUR FUCKING DAYS ON THIS GOD-FORSAKEN EARTH!

    No threats here, because I am out of High School, in college, and things have been looking up for me ever since. Any high schoolers and nerds who subscribe to the TiT mailing list or visit this blog, remember this, life will get better. Do your own thing, no matter what other people think of it. You are you, and these assholes who try to shut you down can’t, because it is they who are insecure and even worse, jealous. Look down on their pitiful existence as lesser beings, because you know what you want in life.

    I debated a bit as to whether to approve this post, and decided to for a few reasons: 1) he is a TRUE subscriber, 2) this is a real example of the rage that develops from ZT, and 3) this is one of the top students — one who made it through with his perspective and ability to express himself intact, and move on to higher education. And he’s right: it does get better: “all” you have to do is survive public school with your sanity intact. -rc

  13. Why should Supt. Burgee “issue a press release right away”? This is a personnel matter between her and the coach. I agree that she did the right thing by overturning the principal’s decision, but she doesn’t owe you or me an explanation, just the coach.

    She’s either going to go public with it, or not. She did — and apparently the coach had a large online contingent waiting for the answer with him. So if it is going to be public, why not make it so quickly? The coach of course deserved the answer first, but in this very public case, the public has an interest too. The sooner the coach is declared exonerated, the more fair to him. Instead, by waiting, there was a cloud over him longer than necessary. Why would you argue for that? -rc

  14. Actually, most rules are for people who do not think, not just ZT rules. If everybody thought things through, there would be no need for rules against assaults, thefts, driving dangerously and many other things that foolish people engage in. And all such rules can become absurd when the they are allowed to over-ride commonsense. The attitude of “Rules are rules, however absurd the outcome” is for mental cowards, whether the rules are ZT rules or otherwise. Someone, I am not sure who, once said: “Rules are made for the guidance of wise men and the blind obedience of fools” (or something similar).

    In a sane society, the only rules that would be needed would be those that set out protocols, such as which side of the road to drive on, how to work out your tax bill, or the procedures for holding an election. But society is still a long way from approaching this ideal.

  15. You really only need two rules in a school or in life in general. Respect yourself and Respect others. After that the only other rules needed are to cover conventions of living, such as which side of the road to drive on etc. That is probably too simple for fans of ZT, they might have to think.

  16. I live about 10 minutes from this school, and I am happy to see that ZT issues can be worked out in my school district! It is a relief to know that while these crazy policies are still in place, at least the administrators are willing to listen and change their minds. Maybe soon they will all start to think for themselves without having to be prodded to do the right thing. Wow!

    Don’t get your hopes up; these things take time! -rc

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