Help! I’ve Been ZT’d!

My Zero Tolerance page gets lots of readers who presumably find it via web searches. One of those this week was David, a high school senior in California, who has some insight of his own into the problem. He writes:

I just finished reading your page on all the “zero tolerance” policies and felt the need to share my own personal experience with them. When I was a sophomore another student and I got into an argument about a P.E. baseball game. It started as a simple “I’m safe”, “No, I tagged you out” situation until he decided to tell me to meet him after school to fight about it. I told him I didn’t want to fight him and that it’s just a game. He took a swing and missed and then finally walked away (the whole time I was slowly stepping back from him as he advanced). At the end of the period we all went into the locker room thinking the whole thing was behind us, until he started running through the locker room yelling my name (I didn’t hear him and didn’t know it was happening).

A few of my friends tried to calm him down but failed. Next thing I knew I was yanked backwards over a bench and saw him swinging at me wildly as I fell. He landed a couple of hits, but nothing serious. Before I had a chance to react the football coach got hold of him and pulled him away. I was then taken to the office to be punished and the school cop checked our records. It turns out it was his second fight in 2 years, so according to policy he should have been arrested, but wasn’t. It was my first fight since elementary school. The school suspended both of us for 5 days. I was in the clear for fighting, as outlined in the school’s “zero tolerance” policy. He was supposed to be arrested, I was jumped and didn’t even fight back, and we both got the same punishment.

Despite the fact that I was in no way guilty of any crime, a few of my teachers decided that since I was suspended, I must be lying about my innocence and therefore they shouldn’t give me my work to make up while I was out. Luckily my mom went to the school and managed to get hold of the vice principal who suspended me. The VP told my mom that had it not been for the “zero tolerance” policy I never would have been suspended, and then she forced my teachers to give me my work.

I apologize for the length of the story, but it still gets my blood flowing when I think about how unfair and unrealistic these policies are. My question to you is how do we stop this? I have not talked to one adult who thinks these policies are a good idea, including my vice principal, so how did they get put in place? And more importantly, how do we get rid of them? I truly enjoyed your article and wish I had discovered your website much sooner. Keep up the good work. P.S. I’m 18 now so you can be sure I’ll be voting against anything that supports “zero tolerance”.

Well, David, covering “what to do about it” is a large part of what I need to do to update my ZT page! It’s been discussed in this space quite a bit over the years, but a recap is in order.

The Macro “What to Do”

First, what to do in general. To start, one must understand the issue. That’s usually done in one of two ways: by experiencing it (as you have) and truly realizing what these policies mean as they’re applied these days, or by reading case after case after case of example stories just like yours, which helps people to truly realize what these policies mean as they’re applied these days, which is what I’m doing about it. That awareness among readers inevitably leads to condemnation of those policies.

What good does that do? It creates a body of people (some would say “voters”) who must then stand up and say “NO!” when these policies are put to use in ridiculous ways. Not just to protest when their own kids are “ZT’d”, but to protest when any kid in their school or city gets screwed over.

And your case is far from the most ridiculous; the examples on my ZT pages show just some of the outrageous stories I’ve collected over the years.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Edmund Burke supposedly said in the 1700s. The corollary: to get evil to stop, good people need to do something, like speak out.

You don’t need a newsletter with a ton of subscribers to do that; you can be even more effective by standing up at a school board meeting and saying “THAT’S NOT RIGHT” — and then explaining why. You may be turned away, but if other good people stand beside you, that determined crowd cannot be ignored for long.

So the second most important thing is: stand behind others who speak out, because they truly need your support.

Yes, this is a national, even international, problem, and it’s growing beyond schools, as many of my stories have shown. But the solution starts locally — with you.

The Micro: Stand Up!

But if you’ve been ZT’d, you need help now; it’s too late to start building a coalition. Quite a few people emailed me their own ZT stories, things that have either happened to them, or to others at their schools. Some were several years old, yet the events are still very fresh in their minds, and they’re angry. They know injustice when they see it, and to see such injustice being institutionalized in rules makes them seethe.

And rightly so: It’s just that growing anger, which I helped to start in the first place, that I’m trying to tap into — a feedback loop. The tagline on one of the ZT stories I wrote recently — “This will continue to get worse until enough citizens say ‘STOP!'” — is quite literally true.

I set out some time ago to show that these stories aren’t some sort of aberration at just some schools here and there; this is a societal problem that’s widespread not only in schools, not only in the U.S., but is growing toward the norm everywhere. And as long as we just sit on our butts and watch, it will continue to grow.

Being Quiet Doesn’t Work

Only by saying “NO!” and “STOP!” will something happen. And that’s not just when it happens to your kid, but when it happens to any kid, any teen, any adult. When you see something that’s clearly not right, you need to say so. In public meetings, in letters to the editor, in letters to your elected representatives.

And when you see someone else standing up to defend others being railroaded by ZT, you need to stand together. Back them up, and ask that others back you up. There’s something very powerful in a crowd of people showing up at a public meeting to say “I don’t want this” — I’ve seen it. I’ve been in the crowd and voiced my support.

So you need to gather people to back you, and head for the next school board meeting. Educate those folks by showing them the stories in this blog. Print some out for them — and the school board. Use the talking points I’ve raised in these posts.

Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it takes time. But if you, who understands the problem, doesn’t work toward fixing it, who will?

I really can’t do more to illustrate the ZT problem than to demonstrate it with stories and suggest how to deal with it. I’m doing my part, and will continue to do so. I hope you’ll stand up and be counted too. It’s the right thing to do.

– – –

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8 Comments on “Help! I’ve Been ZT’d!

  1. I was a junior in high school when some kid I didn’t know tried selling me a bag of weed. I’ve never smoked anything and I never will.

    Apparently, one of the school Vice Principals was looking in our direction when it happened. He takes BOTH of us into his office and calls both of our parents. He says that he is going to suspend me for three days, quoting the zero tolerance policy, and stated that if I showed up on campus I would be arrested for trespassing.

    Basically, I got punished for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. What I have done, and what I urge as many people as possible to do, is to write to your state representatives and senators. Write them soon, and write them often. The zero tolerance policy is good in theory, but the execution of it makes things much worse. We have to let our people in Washington know our thoughts.

  2. Analyzing ‘Zero Tolerance’ policies, they all have much in common:

    1) Abuse of authority
    2) Disregard for the facts (of each case)
    3) Zero ‘due process’ as in ‘innocent until proven guilty’
    4) Unrealistic expectations of perfection from humans (usually children)
    5) The Death of ‘common sense’, and
    6) Capricious enforcement.

    Sadly, now as always, enlightened folks are outnumbered by fearful, regimented, ‘normal people’ who prefer the codification of the rules of life to actually ‘learning’ how to live it, making their own ‘thoughtful’ decisions, and exercising their freedom and authority to do so. Always so outnumbered, we plunge into a dark future ruled by an unenlightened majority.

    Punishment without crime is a crime in itself and ‘it’ [ZT] deserves prosecution when abused.

  3. We have ZT for several reasons. The primary one is individuals have abused their authority/judgement, and that has led to expensive lawsuits. The reaction has been to take authority and the ability to exercise judgement away from everyone and replace it with a pure process — no continuum, [but rather] purely yes-no decisions.

    Since the process rarely takes the nature of the crime or intent of the charged into consideration, we should not be surprised that the punishment does not always fit the crime. Like gun control, this is something where people are being told they aren’t intelligent enough to perform well what are truly basic tasks. After long enough, enough people may even believe it that we won’t ‘need’ juries or even elections — we’ll have a ‘fair’ process that will settle these things for us.

    “If we accept the view that the American people cannot be trusted with the material objects necessary to defend their liberty, we will surely accept as well the view that the American people cannot be trusted with liberty itself. Why should a man who can’t be trusted to refrain from murder be trusted with the much more difficult and morally subtle task of choosing his leaders responsibly?” –Alan Keyes, “The Armed Defense of Liberty,” July 30, 1999

  4. I read your article on zero tolerance — or more accurately David’s story — and your answer. While your answer is okay, there is another answer which may not appeal to you. It is SUE.

    Suing gets attention. Very often the act of bringing a lawsuit forces people to reexamine their policies. And if that does not work, it allows an ‘independent’ judiciary and or a jury to determine what is right and wrong. It also garners press which also very often causes a reexamination of ones position.

    I’m not against lawsuits, I’m against frivolous lawsuits (I wrote an entire book about them.) Lawsuits are clearly a good tool to fight ZT, but it’s no easy solution. It costs money to prosecute a suit and, very importantly, a lot of time — usually years. And lots of time in another sense: hundreds of hours of depositions, hearings, answering questions, digging up documents. It’s truly an arduous process, but for the truly outrageous situations I not only agree it’s a good tool, I encourage it. -rc

  5. The excesses of ZT are the equivalent of far too many “laws” and welfare programs of our various governments. As it happens, a good idea that can be realistic and a help in daily living is enacted. Now, in order for the program to work, some kind of committee needs to be instituted. And that fact becomes the downfall of the program, since the individuals being paid by the enactors want to be sure that they will continue their sinecures and not have to seek employment in the real world. And the group then builds layers of “protection” around the original idea and the personnel. The idea is “evoluted”, growing constantly and becomes impersonal and mutates into something the originators did not ask for.

    So much for not watching all the idiotic forums and boards of America. Keep your eyes on them, fellow citizens.

  6. It is no surprise to me that the entire ZT movement (indoctrination) started in the schools. If after years of application and generations of exposure the mini-government of the local school can convince its students that it is ok for the government to eschew due process, habeas corpus, and other such rights and responsibilities of civil life, imagine what ideally docile subjects said school will churn out for the larger state (which, by the way, funds the very schools that are supposed to be training independent and thoughtful adults). To deny a student the right to circumstance, evidence, analysis, and public debate — how much more dehumanizing, let alone un-American, can a system become?

    Thank you Randy, for holding this ground. Your page should be required reading for all educators.

  7. It has always seemed to me that “Zero Common Sense” is the problem, rather than “Zero Tolerance”.

    I think that a zero tolerance approach to illegal drugs makes perfect sense. However punishing our correspondent Dennis, who clearly didn’t use drugs, is simply stupid. The principal should have waited a few seconds to see if he actually bought the drugs before acting.

    We hear similar stories of students being punished for vitamins or even candy, because it looks like drugs. Again, the problem isn’t lack of tolerance, it is plain stupidity.

    Too often, the perpetrators of this foolishness will claim Zero Tolerance as their justification, but it just isn’t true. A policy of zero tolerance for weapons means stamping out weapons, not suspending kids for pointing their finger and saying “bang”.

    Perhaps we need teachers and administrators who can make a simple decision, rather than some of the zombies who currently pervade.

  8. I read the comments made by Ben of Australia and wondered where he has been hiding. At least 10 years ago I am aware of a young high school student who quit school due to bullying and ZT. He was the object of a couple of typical school thugs but every time he got beat up by them, once with a knife attack he got the same detention and suspension as the bullies. After the last attack he decided he would rather not go to school. The attitude has not changed. I wish I had read your blog on what to do at the time as I would have done my best to follow the suggestions you make.


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