Texas Zero Tolerance

I Still Get So Angry at Zero Tolerance stories! Let’s start with the story that made me angry this week:

If You See Something, Don’t Say Something

An unnamed 13-year-old girl at Lakeview Middle School in Lewisville, Texas, overheard a boy at school tell a classmate, “Don’t come to school tomorrow.” The 8th-grader couldn’t help but think of the elementary school shooting in Uvalde less than a year before, where a former student killed 19 children and 2 teachers. On the way home, she texted a few friends: “this is genuinely scaring the sh– out of me. lets see if i can tell my mom without crying.” After she got home and told her what happened, her mother picked up the phone to call the school, but it rang before she could: it was the assistant principal, who had heard the gossip. A school police officer investigated the boy and discovered he had no access to guns. That would be the end of the story, except we live in a Zero Tolerance world: the next day the girl was called to principal Beri Deister’s office to determine her punishment for what Deister called “a false accusation.” While being interrogated, the girl commented, “There’s no part of me that thinks this whole situation is rational.” Deister sentenced her to 3 days of suspension and 73 days in an “alternative” school — the rest of the school year. Her mother refused to send her as it was the start of the school-to-prison “pipeline” — the girl and her mother are Black — and let her study online instead. After two formal appeals by her mother, the district relented and let the teen come back to school. “If I heard something else that could be a threat,” the girl told her mother, “honestly, I just wouldn’t tell anyone.” (RC/Dallas Morning News) …Then they got what they wanted: silence.

From This is True for 23 April 23

Not a Small Town Situation

Lewisville is a Dallas suburb. The Independent School District there has more than 52,000 students and 3,600 teachers, making it among the Top 100 districts by size in the nation. For the 2020-2021 school year, it had a budget of $579,110,000. This isn’t some little town like Uvalde.

The story was already too long so I didn’t squeeze in one more little fact: what of the unnamed boy who started it all?

“I said don’t come to school tomorrow because I wanted to scare them” — the other students — he admitted in a written statement. “I wanted to because I think that it was funny. I expected them to tell.” He later contradicted himself, denying he said anything at all to the other students.

He was similarly suspended and sent to the alternative school, but it’s unclear how long he was supposed to stay there. Good thing the girl wasn’t there to be bullied by him!

“Police quickly determined the boy alleged to have made the comment did not have access to a gun,” the Dallas Morning News reported, and thus, “There was no threat to campus.”

Because we all know that the only place for kids to get hold of guns is at home, right?

Mom’s Argument

“We are teaching kids: If you see something, you say something,” the mother said during one of the appeal hearings. “Kids are kids. They may not always get it right. But she heard something that was concerning, and within a 21-minute span of mentioning to a friend, I was in the know and I was speaking with [assistant principal Sharla] Samples.”

School officials thought the girl should have told them first. You know, text an adult from the school bus when she doesn’t have their cell phone numbers? Yeah, sure. I think their real embarrassment was they couldn’t control the rumors, which of course run rampant in such an environment, especially in Texas. Uvalde is just over 300 miles away — a relatively short distance in a state that large.

Because the girl’s “sentence” was overturned, though only after her mother pressed for a second appeals hearing, District Director of Student Services Rebecca Clark said, “The district’s process worked as intended.” Yeah, that’s exactly the problem! Also, she said, it would be “grossly inaccurate to say the district has ever punished a student for reporting a safety concern.”

Stopped in My Tracks

What called my attention to the story? Its headline: “How a Texas Girl Scared of School Shootings Was Punished”. That concept is simply mind-boggling, but it fits the situation perfectly.

As the girl herself said, “There’s no part of me that thinks this whole situation is rational.” Smart kid; she clearly gets it from her mother. I hope she can get over the trauma she suffered at the hands of so-called professional educators.

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22 Comments on “Texas Zero Tolerance

  1. No access to firearms? I live in the UK, so I have effectively zero knowledge of what is possible in Texas, but I would be very surprised if he absolutely could not access firearms somewhere there….

  2. Obviously, Texas has Zero Tolerance for Intelligence. The Girl has it and was punished. The school doesn’t have it and they think they didn’t punish the girl for reporting a safety concern. Only in Texas where the morally Right are wrong.

    Unfortunately it’s not only in Texas: I’ve had such stories from many states (click on the “zero tolerance” subject tag in the Posted Date line to see more). But yes, this is an extra-ridiculous case. -rc

    • That part existed long, long before ZT. The administrators of my school days were scared of only two things — lawsuits and punishing the rich kids — because either could result in a termination of employment.

  3. Oh thank goodness the kid she overheard had no access to guns, because there’s no way he could have information about a *different* child making plans.

    Ridiculous endless cycle where even when you “do the right thing” you get punished. Fine, next time I won’t say anything until AFTER the tragedy I could have warned you about. You can’t win.

    • The lesson of Cassandra. She was given a triple curse by the gods. She was cursed to always know what was going to happen, would never be believed, and when it happened, she would be blamed for causing it because of her prophecy.

      So basically Cassandra is everyone in the US with a triple-digit IQ.

  4. In re: your reply to Chad: The sad part is that it’s not an extra-ridiculous case. I’m not even remotely surprised the school reacted this way. When I was in high school, the Norfolk Public Schools Student Code of Conduct explicitly stated that there was a zero-tolerance policy towards weapons, terroristic threats, and violence, to the point that participating in a fight meant an automatic ten-day suspension. And by “participating in a fight”, they meant exactly that. One of my classmates asked during an assembly, and the principal outright told us that if you were involved in a fight, even if someone else jumped you and you just lay there and took it, that was considered “participating” and you would get ten days OSS. (Of course, this was the same obliviot of a principal whose response to “if you say no cell phones at all on school property and the kids aren’t allowed to use the school phones, but my kid isn’t eligible to ride the after-school buses and needs a ride home from their extracurriculars, so how are they supposed to contact me” was “they can walk home, get their cell phone, come back, and call for a ride”. Between that, the fact that he encouraged teachers to suspend students they didn’t expect to pass the standardized tests right before tests were administered so the school’s pass rate would be higher, and his outright refusal to admit that there were LGBTQ+ students or faculty at our school — less than twenty years ago! — it’s astonishing he lasted as long as he did.)

    I also knew of a kid who had the same math teacher as my brother and I did the year after me and the year before my brother (I want you to remember that when you get to the end of this paragraph — that this teacher had been teaching for at least ten years before I took her class and continued teaching for at least several years afterwards). One day he stepped on a cockroach that was in the classroom. The teacher, who had decided that this cockroach was coming into the classroom every day to learn Algebra II and had dubbed it “Jimmy Cockroach”, wrote the kid up for “killing another student.” I don’t know if he actually got suspended or if his vice-principal had the sense God gave a rock and asked him to explain when he saw the write-up slip, but since it never hit the papers and the teacher was still there when I graduated, I’m guessing the latter.

  5. As a transplant into Texas, this is the kind of response I’ve come to expect from those who *should* know better.

    No guns at home? No problem. Neighbors & friends’ houses are easy sources. If you’re already on the fringe and have a little cash or something to trade, try the drug dealer at the local Sonic or in your History class.

    The administrators’ responses have CYA all over them.

  6. Thank you for expanding on the story. It’s amazing to me that grown people in charge of Teaching Children can be such blithering idiots. Where in the name of all that is holy has common sense gone.

    Good question, Joel. Good question. -rc

  7. Thank you for reminding me and my husband yet again of why we have stayed in Japan to raise our children.

    I have seen so many articles asking why schools in the US are doing so poorly.

    This is why. When the school staff stops thinking, they stop actually educating, too. It’s not left wing or right wing politics or what books are in the library or whatever buzz words are in the news this week, it’s that people can’t even use their brains.

    That girl deserves a better education than she’s getting and that mom deserves a lot of apologies.

  8. Of course I am with you here.

    1. She said she will keep it for herself the next time — not ok what she learned from this. Hopefully her mother can teach her not to despite this experience.
    2. If he would have planned a shooting and they found out, would she have been praised? I doubt it.
    3. Those teachers should get fired or at least fined or something.

    Just for clarity, these aren’t teachers, but administrators — essentially highly paid government bureaucrats who choose to act as prosecutors, judges, and juries. But if they can’t think and make logical decisions (even a 13-year-old could tell they weren’t rational!), then why are they being paid so much? They’re simply not, in my opinion, doing their jobs with professionalism. -rc

    • They’re getting paid so much because it’s a really hard job for them. Any job where someone has no clue what they’re doing would by definition be very hard, even if someone more capable would find the job easy….

      It’s only a hard job if you DO the job. Otherwise it’s just wage theft from the employee side. -rc

  9. She did the right thing and reported what appeard to both her and me to be a potential thread. The School board should be forced to pay damages and to resign for suspending her. She did the right thing.

    But of course in Texas, Doing the right thing is a crime.

    • In Texas, it’s doing the left thing that’s the crime.

      That aside, it’s not just Texas, it’s almost everywhere. New York, Florida, and especially California, yikes!

  10. Zero tolerance is a policy that stipulates that the administrators of an institution are incapable of possessing and using common sense and making basic judgments as to the severity, or lack thereof, of an action, utterance, symbol or expression that equates to a prohibited behavior, directly or by implication, reference or suggestion.

    This results in absurdities becoming legal issues, affecting the mental health of the transgressors, stigmatizing children, destroying lives and, in general making the administrations look like fools, idiots or zealots unworthy of their salaries.

    Furthermore, zero tolerance is enforced punishment of routine activity without any kind of objective standard, depending heavily on the imagination of the accuser and attempting to stifle the freedom and imagination of the “perpetrator”. Because listing all the legal products that become contraband on campus is too hard the lazy administrators ban broad categories with very loose descriptions. This leads to children getting in trouble because the assignment to draw their father in work clothes results in a drawing of a police officer with a firearm or a firefighter with an axe.

  11. Growing up with one parent working as a teacher was enough to make me swear off the idea of ever being a teacher, at least in any sizable district (such as the one in which she taught). The district’s credo, even long before ZT, seemed to be, “Those who can, do elsewhere; those who can’t, teach; those who can’t teach, become administrators; those who can’t administer, constitute the school board.”

    Nearly 50 years after I graduated from high school, I’m told nothing in that “credo” has changed a bit in the district. In fact, I’m told it’s worse because it’s become second nature to those now in positions of “authority” because they grew up in the system.

  12. If the boy admitted at first, then how could this be considered a “false accusation”. Is the girl supposed to investigate if the boy had guns or some meaningful plan before reporting it? Absolutely nuking futs.

    • that’s a turn of phrase I’d never heard
      describing things that are absurd
      when consciousness malformed and blurred
      joins passion dangerously stirred
      In future when folks think with their butts
      I hope that I shall have the guts
      to label them as nuking futs

  13. I’ve homeschooled my kids since my oldest was in kindergarten. I’ve considered sending them to public schools occasionally now that we live in a better school district than we used to, but then I see things like this that only reinforce my desire to keep them out. Kids shouldn’t have to worry about being shot in school, and definitely shouldn’t have to worry about being punished for overhearing something like this.

  14. I just heard this story on This American Life. I was curious about the principal and Googled her. Ironically, her doctorate dissertation was about how zero tolerance policies are bad and racially biased. She makes recommendations about how to implement restorative justice. I wonder if her views changed since then. It’s odd that someone who wrote that paper behaved in this way.

    Here is a link to her dissertation.


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