What Actually Works Against ZT

This week’s issue had several “Zero Tolerance” stories. The stories themselves don’t matter to the following point: Whenever I run stories like these, readers write to suggest I put the principal’s/administrator’s/school board’s email address in the issue to make it easy for you to write and berate them. Please don’t; it’s not useful for you to write nasty letters to these people.

It is useful for people to write thoughtful letters to the editor of local newspapers for publication. It’s useful to go to school board meetings and protest such stupidity when it happens in your town. It’s useful for parents to watch their own kids’ schools and gather other parents to protest when such things happen to other kids at the school, so that when it happens to your kid there might be someone there to protest on your behalf, too.

Doing It Right

Here’s a great example of what can be done, suggested by reader Stephen in Rhode Island:

I don’t often feel the need to comment, but your three items ‘Zero Tolerance’ this week have really bothered me. Does accountability, especially for publicly funded officials, no longer exist? The supposed explanations that officials use to support their own bone-headed decisions are so self-serving as to make me sick with worry about the lessons that they are imparting to the next generation.

Because most of the items that you identify are really ‘local’ in nature, the answer has to come with local grass-roots activism, where people in the community have to stand up and tell these officials where to get off. By also holding these people up to national ridicule, you are also doing an immeasurable service. Several years ago I saw an example of what can be done. There was an incident of Zero Tolerance enforcement by a local school principal (I don’t remember what the issue was but it was pretty dumb) that caused local parents to be upset. This principal refused to back down or even to discuss his decision with parents (and the local union representing school principals also chimed in support for the ZT decision).

A local city politician decided to do something about it: Citing the fact that a major factor in setting (higher) salary levels for school principals was the high level of responsibility that they had compared to ordinary teachers, he proposed that salaries for principals should be reduced because ZT policies had clearly reduced the level of responsibility that they had to deal with. The proposal actually was adopted by the local town council. Within one day, school principals in this town decided that perhaps blind adherence to ZT policies should be reviewed, and the principal involved in the original issue was meeting with parents to discuss the original decisions. So there is hope, but it needs local concerned parents and citizens to become involved.”

See, there is effective action — and an effective local politician who deserves re-election! Fantastic.

The Most Effective Tactic

Yes, this is a national (and spreading) issue; it demonstrates a real flaw in our educational system (and, as I have shown over the years, it’s spreading outside our educational system: this page has one early example.)

But I believe it’s going to take a societal solution to fix it. That starts with you standing up and saying you’re as mad as hell, and you’re not going to take it anymore.

Who will listen? Local politicians. Local newspapers. Your friends and neighbors. And as that outrage gathers momentum, it will necessarily spread and start to smother this stupid policy.

So yes: absolutely let your voice be heard, but do it in an effective way. Screaming at a rule-laden out-of-state school principal, even if s/he deserves it, isn’t the way to get changes made.

Threatening his or her paycheck is.

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7 Comments on “What Actually Works Against ZT

  1. Not that they’re likely to notice on an individual basis, but LAUSD’s ZT policies were a significant factor in our decision to send our children to private school. It’s a pretty circuitous route, but I believe that does eventually impact the school district’s budget.

    So: Take your business elsewhere.

    Yes, it impacts their budget a little. But they won’t really notice unless you make sure they know that you’re one of many who pulled their kid for this reason. Getting a letter published in the L.A. Times might be one way for them to notice. -rc

  2. Thanks for the Zero Tolerance articles as they’ve given me a very good plot device for a story. I write some fiction stories and collaborate a lot with a cousin, we’ve been discussing a story line with a plot in the USA and part of the plot involves the central family home teaching the kids but couldn’t think of a valid way to get home teaching approved for a family in a fair sized city – and the ZT stories have provided it. Part of the plot is the parents don’t want the kids taught in the local school system but the laws require they do schooling, so we’ll now organise the home schooling by having the kids take water pistols to school, get expelled under the ZT rules and have that repeated at the only other local school, thus the kids HAVE to be home taught and the laws about going to school are negated by the laws on ZT expelling them. Now we can get on with the rest of the plot and story development now that you’ve solved that subplot for us, many thanks.

    “Truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction has to make sense.” Unfortunately, you may be violating the “has to make sense” rule! -rc

  3. Regards to Ernest: Needlessly complicated, as many states allow home-schooling, some (as with Colorado) by simply writing to your local School District with your intent to do so.

    On the other hand, it sounds nifty. I remember my water-pistol to school days (5th grade or so), didn’t even get me more than the offending device confiscated and no recess. Then again, that was in the sixties. Nowadays, Denver schools have been know to come down on a second-grader like a ton of bricks for bringing a toy gun (specifically, a 1 inch long plastic replica of a colt 1911 style pistol, suitable only for GI Joe; now that would be ironic for your story…). Didn’t even fire water.

    Seriously, common sense ain’t that common any more. Good luck with the story.

  4. Just last week my son was roughed up by a group of other boys and when he got up he backhanded the ring leader and broke a pinky bone. When went to get ice we were called to pick him up. The next day he was given in school suspension and denied bathroom and drinking privileges.

    We were being brushed off for a resolution until I let the principal know that until we had a meeting with district officials and the school people our children would not be returning to school until all aspects of the policy, fact finding requirements and punishment guidelines were shown to have been followed. The punishment counselor called to let me know she didn’t let us know about the house arrest due to being overwhelmed by the 8th grade dance that night.

    The superintendent’s office was most helpful in arranging a meeting to discuss the issues. I am grateful for the newspaper submission suggestions.

    We are not backing down on bringing our kids back to school until it’s all resolved satisfactorily.

    Good! And please report back in a few weeks after things are settled. And by the way: drinking water and peeing aren’t “privileges,” they’re a necessity of life and good health. That seems to me something that you need to focus on when you go to the press! Get a statement from your doctor about how denying both is cruel and inhuman. -rc

  5. Wow. Even our local schools have not tried to call going to the bathroom a “privilege” to be taken away. Now, they do try to tell the kids they can “only” go during passing times and right before lunch. It is not too hard to get a teacher to be reasonable though, and allow a student who simply needs to go in the middle of class, to go in the middle of class. The problem is, it disturbs the flow of instruction significantly if three or four students all claim to need to go “real bad” during the same class period; when the same ones do it a lot, the teacher gets tired of it. But again, this is an example of the policies being in place for a reason that makes some sense, and teachers being allowed to have some leeway in application – both NOT conducive to absolute, ZT-type policies.

    Not that our district is exceptionally good at avoiding meaningless ZT fiascoes. We just had a (5th or 6th grade – I can’t recall) child expelled for bringing a table knife to school to help cut an apple into smaller pieces for an experiment, last school year (06-07). It was unreal. Anyway, not allowing access to water and bathroom during the day is not revoking a privilege as much as it is abusing power and demanding control over needs that cannot be controlled. I would hope anyone doing that to students would be fired and have their license revoked. Too much to hope for, I gather. And again, I suppose, a “ZT” approach.

  6. I was just having a conversation about ZT with my son, he’s really into Transformers and the toys all have two modes. Most have a gun or weapon in the robot mode and two of them turn into guns in the non-robot mode. he could be in trouble for having them at school.

    However, what got me to writing to you again, is i just realised that each day across the USA tens of thousands of school students take one of the most deadly of all weapons in the world to school and there’ll be hell to pay when the ZT people realise this and have them banned. And, no, I’m not talking about the deadliest of all, which is the human mind; I’m talking about a motor car. They already kill millions each year and all you need is for someone to go postal and drive at the bus lines and it double stacking at the local morgue.

    How’s that for a scary prospect, yet the ZT people are unlikely to get them banned.

    As I have said many times in other forums, it’s not “the weapon” that’s an issue, it’s the mindset. I couldn’t hurt someone with a nail clipper, which was once banned by our airport security folks. But I certainly could kill someone with a pen, which has never been banned. We must stop thinking about banning weapons and instead focus on who might be a problem. It’s not going to be easy to make the change, but the repeated insanity we witness time and again show we need to make a change. -rc

  7. I read the comment from Aussie Ernest and had to suggest something else that needs to be banned. That weapon is a sharp pencil. I submit you can do much more damage with the pointy end of that pencil than you could ever do with the dull knife without a point.


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