Zero Tolerance: Alive and Well

When I run a string of zero tolerance stories, readers typically respond, “What should we do about this?” What I don’t want you to do is emailbomb the school officials or school boards involved.

But first, let’s recap several of this week’s ZT stories (from the 1 January 2012 issue):

It’s No Longer Cute

Emanyea Lockett, 9, was suspended from Brookside Elementary School in Gastonia, N.C., for what the school’s principal described as sexual harassment. His crime? According to Emanyea, a substitute teacher overheard him tell another student that a teacher was “cute”. “It’s not like he went up to the woman and tried to grab her or touch her in a sexual way,” said his mother, Chiquita Lockett. “So why would he be suspended for two days?” A district official wouldn’t go into detail, but said Emanyea was suspended for “inappropriate behavior” after making “inappropriate statements.” (MS/Gaston Gazette) …Which sounds like an inappropriate use of policy to avoid appropriate use of the brain.

Now This is Cute

After a 9-year-old was suspended for supposed “sexual harassment” for referring to a teacher as “cute,” the Gaston County (N.C.) School District said the superintendent had a formal apology for student Emanyea Lockett and his parents, and the suspension has been stricken from the boy’s record. Then the district gave Brookside Elementary School Principal Jerry Bostic one hour to decide: quit, or be fired. “One mistake in 44 years, and I’m not given the benefit of the doubt,” Bostic complained. “I really don’t believe I was treated fairly.” He chose to retire, presumably with a full pension. (RC/WSOC Charlotte) …Oh sure, NOW he wants to talk about what’s “fair”!

and…

Turned in at Albuquerque

Albuquerque, N.M., authorities were summoned to the Cleveland Middle School by a school resource officer to make an arrest for “interfering with public education,” court papers show. Responding officers did in fact make the arrest. The criminal: a seventh-grader, whose teacher was displeased that he had “burped audibly.” Yes, really. The unnamed student’s family has filed a civil-rights lawsuit against the school, in which the boy complains of being strip-searched in an earlier incident, when he had been suspected of selling pot; he wasn’t charged in that case. Last year, says Shannon Kennedy, the boy’s attorney, she won a class-action settlement with Albuquerque police over arrests of minors. That case “was started by a girl who was arrested for not wanting to sit next to the stinky boy in class,” Kennedy said. (AC/ABC News) …If I were a kid, I’d be more concerned about sitting in the stinky police department’s jurisdiction.

(Contributor credits: MS-Mike Straw, RC-Randy Cassingham, AC-Alexander Cohen)

If Not emailbomb the Schools, Then What?

No Tolerance for Zero Tolerance: Demand Common Sense!

I’ve been pointing out the stupidity of zero tolerance since 1995, and I’ve gotten a feel for what actually works to fight back against it.

What works is for you to watch your local media for such stories — of examples of ZT near you. And when you do hear about them, I want you to stand behind those kids.

Sending nasty emails from your den isn’t the answer: showing up at school board meetings and saying “This is wrong!” is the answer, and demanding a more measured approach.

And when school officials make boneheaded decisions and then hide behind “policy” to say they “had no choice”? Well, then you should point out they are being paid professional wages, and if they’re simply acting as a clerk, they should be paid as one.

The Gaston Example

The Gaston County School District took pretty tough action — firing the principal — but isn’t that exactly what is needed? Tell me that didn’t send a strong message of “We won’t tolerate this nonsense anymore.” That worked!

I actually hadn’t meant for that story to be two stories. I assigned the first one to Mike …and forgot that I had a follow-up. When Mike sent me the story, I thought to myself, “Wasn’t there an update on that one…?” and saw my lapse.

It was too late to send it to him and ask for a rewrite, so rather than tear his story apart in the edit process, I just decided to run a follow-up immediately after. They both stand on their own quite well, I think.

When I was a kid, the principal at every school I went to had teeth, and my parents — after listening to my side — always (and appropriately) backed him up (it was always a him in my day).

Now many principals call in the cops for things that they should be taking care of themselves. “Interfering with public education” for “burping audibly” is a police matter? Really? If cops don’t have better things to do than that, then there are too many cops in that town.

But it’s a court matter now. Yeah, that’s a great use of public resources: the police, and now the courts, have to deal with classroom burping. Great. The principal is …where? If he or she isn’t doing their job, why are they being paid? Gastonia had it right: they shouldn’t be. They should be thrown out of their office on one hour’s notice. Bring in someone that can think and earn the money they’re being paid.

Stand Up for the Kids

These are the kinds of things that need to be brought up locally when they happen. Yeah, it takes more time and effort than sending email. If this happened in my town, you better believe I’d be at the next school board meeting. I’d be calling the parents to say I’m behind them, and will stand with them in support of their kid.

Meanwhile, it’s my job to point out that these outrages aren’t just funny stories, they’re little bits of terrorism being committed upon our children by people who are supposed to be educated enough to know better, and professional enough to be able to handle it without calling in the police. The police should be called when a crime has been committed (but even then, they sometimes aren’t!), sure. Not for burping. That’s what principals are for.

So when your school’s officials aren’t doing their jobs, yes: it’s absolutely appropriate to ask some demanding questions, to insist they do their own jobs rather than making small disciplinary challenges into criminal acts, and supporting the kids who have been wronged by unthinking “policy”. And that’s the case whether you have kids in that school or not. As a taxpayer, you’re paying those salaries. It’s time to demand better.

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29 thoughts on “Zero Tolerance: Alive and Well

  1. Right on the mark once again, Randy. Thanks to you my personal slogan is,”zero tolerance for Zero Tolerance.” The amount of money and resources wasted on this sort of nonsense is truly obscene.

    I’ve seen that one of the reasons for this sort of nonsense are school administrators not supporting teachers when it comes to classroom discipline. The teacher then has to call for assistance and the administrators lacking the cojones to take action call the law or toss the kid out of school. It’s time those highly paid do nothings earn their keep.

  2. One mistake in 44 years? ONE mistake in 44 years??? What, does he mean ONE mistake that he’s ever been held to task? So, what, does that mean he’s always manage to slide on all the others? And this one was finally too big to just bury?

    Let’s face it, folks, I am arrogant. I make mistakes so seldom that, far from being embarrassed, I actually enjoy it as a novelty. And I can tell you that I’ve SURE made more than ONE mistake in 44 years! This guy makes ME look humble, for pity sake.

    Glad someone caught that so quickly. If a week goes by where I don’t make a mistake that I actually regret — made one tonight, in fact! But thankfully not in tonight’s issue (that I know of. Yet.) — I figure I must have mistaken an error for success. -rc

  3. You said it Mike. I’ve seen teachers with over 20 years experience fired for attempting to maintain order in a classroom due to zero tolerance. This sort of reactionary behavior is why our schools are mediocre.

  4. It’s ironic, isn’t it, that police are called for burping — but that rape you reported on a while ago was (in the school’s opinion) handled in-house. Madness.

    Yep. That case is linked in the second-to-last paragraph. -rc

  5. I was amused at the story about the student who burped. I had a high school classmate who amused himself by sneezing as loudly as he could. After about the 3rd time, the teacher said something to the effect of “That’s enough, John. It’s not necessary to sneeze loudly enough to disrupt the class.” John was very circumspect from then on when he sneezed, and no one even considered involving the principal. I wonder if a teacher can do that any more?

  6. You said it yourself with “When I was a kid, the principal at every school I went to had teeth, and my parents — after listening to my side — always (and appropriately) backed him up”. I am not saying these examples are right, but I can understand the frustration of teachers and administrators when week after week parents/guardians of disruptive students are called in and do NOTHING.

    Yep, I wanted to acknowledge that not all parents back up the schools, and a lot of kids get away with murder. This is not completely a one-sided issue. -rc

  7. Actually I think that the second story fits right in with the “zero tolerance” stories, and not in a good way. I think there is probably a proper procedure for disciplining a school principal for inappropriate actions, and it should have been followed. I really can’t agree with “zero tolerance” for anything… including for “zero tolerance”. Reactions to a problem should never be extreme or hasty (if at all possible).

    Well, I’ll go with the excuse schools usually use: “We can’t discuss prior disciplinary actions for privacy reasons.” In other words, I don’t believe “One mistake in 44 years.” -rc

  8. One nice thing about the followup, finally, Zero Tolerance used as it should be — Zero Tolerance for Jerry Bostic’s stupidity, that is.

    Now, if we could just have a Zero Tolerance policy for other Zero Tolerance policy stupidities, I think we could actually accomplish something in our schools, such as education.

  9. I wonder if this way of thinking has evolved into a national psyche? Any psychiatrist/psychologist out there to comment? Just curious.

    I was sent to the principal one time in elementary school for bringing toys and that got my attention. We were always afraid of that paddle board with the holes in it (no idea if one existed). I think this is way over the top and he should have known better.

    I first noted that ZT was spreading into the “real world” with this story in 2001. It’s not a shock: school kids do eventually grow up and get jobs. -rc

  10. I have Asperger’s Syndrome, which often causes me to interpret things very literally. Well, when I was in 7th grade, we were taking the New York State Standardized Tests, and we had to write an essay about a passage we were given. This happened to be about a teenage artist named Miguel “Trapping sleeping animals in blocks of wood” and “painting them”. Well, to a neurotypical student, it would be quite clear that Miguel was a wood sculptor and painter and that he was not using real animals. Unfortunately, it was not so clear to me. So, I wrote about how Miguel was a violent, sadistic rebel who enjoyed torturing and abusing animals. Well, this got me flagged as “emotionally disturbed” and my parents had to come in to talk to the principal. Fortunately, he knew me pretty well and noted that my over-literal interpretation of the passage was not due to any violent or abusive tendencies that I possessed, but rather was due to my Asperger’s Syndrome. If he hadn’t been so understanding, who knows what would have happened with “Zero Tolerance”? I’d have been put in some program with kids who really were violent sadists who would kill a little nerdy kid like me given the chance.

    I note that there’s no responsibility taken for asking the question in that way. A lot of kids (especially boys) would be inspired to take it the same way you did. That this was not anticipated is a failure of the people who wrote the test, not the kids reacting in that way. -rc

  11. I’ve never been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, nor would I believe that I suffer from it. Then again, one time I went to the hardware store for some high-pressure hose. When they asked me, how much pressure, I told them at least 125 psi. Then they asked, “How long?” My response? At least ten years. No, “what LENGTH?”

    So my first reaction to “Trapping sleeping animals in blocks of wood” and “painting them” was WHAT? But then, as an adult, I’ve learned to ask questions for clarification. Kids are often criticized, sometimes severely, for DARING to question an adult, no matter the reason. Actually, I’ve seen the same mindset even in the executive offices of Fortune 100 companies where everyone is supposed to be an adult. Never show that you don’t possess ALL information, lest ye be judged incompetent.

    So, you see, Randy is right. Kids subjected to zero tolerance DO grow into adults and carry what they’ve learned into their jobs.

    And that thing about “never question an adult”? That’s a large part of what enables child abuse, sexual and otherwise. -rc

  12. Yeah, it shouldn’t work that way, should it?

    But we use the tools where we can get them.

    On a tangent, but the same principle: I enjoyed your True Stella stories as well, and have often wondered why the American legal system is so abused. Since arriving here two years ago, I have realised that *part* of the reason is because the institutions have so much power over the little people. (Which doesn’t mean I think that what is going on in some courts is correct.)

    I do believe though that there is way too much power vested in institutions — and the people are taking, and should take, whatever means they can to fight back.

    Whether it is old technology like the courts, or new technology like on-line petitions.

  13. What comes to mind is the cliche, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” We have no idea if Bostic had or had not erred in the past. The conclusion that, having gone way overboard in this instance, he must be in the habit of doing so, is unsupported. Perhaps he had been taken to task for not enforcing a silly zero tolerance edict before. We don’t know. Everybody has a bad day.

    So, a totally inappropriate zero tolerance decision was followed up by what appears to be a gross overreaction. Both are despicable.

    Of course, there’s also another saying: “Live by the sword, die by the sword.” -rc

  14. quote: “Oh sure, NOW he wants to talk about what’s ‘fair’!”

    Greeting Zero Tolerance with Zero Tolerance, hmm yeah that’s surely going to work to end the practice …. I think not.

  15. The skill of an administrator is critical. I’m “in the trenches” driving a school bus and there are some seriously dangerous kids in the public school system.

    It takes forever to get the real sociopaths weeded out due to overly tolerant state and federal laws. In the meantime the violent and crazy ones do a lot of damage.

    It gets as ridiculous as a violent kid having a special government mandated IEP (Individual Education Plan — for “anger issues” in this case) to scream at people and throw things…as long as he didn’t put his hands on anyone.

    Of course he finally attacked a teacher. Can you imagine trying to teach a class with that going on every day?
    Local politics play into it too…as the dangerous “little darlings” parents threaten the school board with lawsuits at the drop of a hat…or…the sociopaths’ parents may be politically connected within the district and school board positions are usually elected.

    Your school board had best have their stuff together too.

    We could go into politicians who make rules when they have zero actual experience in the area but that’s a whole other rant.

    I’ve worked with administrators that ignored everything and put everyone at risk as well as those who hold the line intelligently. The good ones are worth every penny because they use that intelligence to circumvent legislated idiocy while holding the line on discipline…without going over the top. As you said….not a “clerk” level of skill.

  16. I’m with Alan, a fellow Canadian. ZT is just plain stupid, suspending the kid in the first story was beyond ridiculous. But the treatment of the principal also smacked of ZT. Presumably he has to deal with a bunch of moronic ZT policy from higher up the food chain.

    There would have been a certain amount of poetic justice in providing the principal with the suspension, but suspend also the idiots who write the ZT policy, they are a big part of this debacle.

    For the record, I’m unclear whether the district has a ZT policy. Based on what happened to the principal, though, I’d guess not. -rc

  17. I can’t get in my head why the cops didn’t refuse to come out in most cases. 911 oper. gets the info when it’s called. The cops should take some of the blame also.

    I can understand sending an officer when the school calls. But hauling kids off in handcuffs for (say) burping in class? Yeah: the police must take a good chunk of blame for that. -rc

  18. I’ve been following the Zero Tolerance theme for a couple of reasons; I am a school teacher and stupidity amuses me! I was amused by principal Jerry Bostic’s complaint, “One mistake in 44 years, and I’m not given the benefit of the doubt, I really don’t believe I was treated fairly.” If, after 44 years as a professional, he was unable to see the absurdity of the situation he placed himself in, then I doubt his accounting skills as well as his concept of fairness. A twisted concept of what is right/wrong does not usually result in so few mistakes in 44 years! On the other hand, in my 20+ years in education, I have come to the wrong conclusion from time to time. Sometimes we do need someone “above” who will hold our feet to the fire.

    We all, of course, make mistakes. For Bostic to whitewash his own does show something about him that I don’t think he meant to reveal. -rc

  19. “One mistake in 44 years, and I’m not given the benefit of the doubt, I really don’t believe I was treated fairly.”:

    I don’t think being demoted to vice-principal in this case was unfair, Bostic was the one that chose to resign.

    Did you see something that indicated he was given the choice to be demoted? The way I read it was, quit or be fired. -rc

  20. Well, it is written somewhere “As Ye Sow, so shall Ye reap.”

    If he is going to go to zero tolerance extreme.

    He should, logically, thus be treated.

    Perhaps his replacement will actually have a working brain. (Doubful but we can hope).

  21. Zero Tolerance is an excellent idea. After all how many times should you be allowed to bring a gun to school or sell drugs in school. Do you want drug dealers your kids schools, that know if they get caught all they’ll get is a warning? What’s an administrator to do; a kid has rich powerful parent so he won’t be suspended, but another kid has poor parents so he will be suspended? The actions to which ZT is applied are not always appropriate, but the problem is not ZT.

    If you actually think ZT is a great idea, you haven’t been paying attention to the stories I’ve been publishing — and that’s just a small sampling. -rc

  22. We have assembly lined our schools and told parents “we are the experts we know what we’re doing,” and now that the school is not in the neighborhood the only ones that get involve is the “not my child” crowd so instead of having to fight with them every decision they NT everything.

    We have a no accidents allowed mentality EVERYWHERE though. When a tornado hits a Sugar Land concert we sue, when someone stops to pull someone from a burning car and hurt the person they sue, if someone is too dumb to check how hot the coffee is and gets burned they sue. So now everyone’s scared to make a mistake or stand up. CYA rules the day with all the insanity that comes with it.

    Goodbye reason, I knew you well.

  23. Ten years ago, my son did “the right thing” in the 7th grade – and was punished for it – thanks to “Zero Tolerance”. When he got to school and realized he’d (unintentionally) brought a pocket knife to school he knew he had to turn it in. They had always told him (and his fellow students) that they could come to school authorities with any problem, and they would get help. He did, and they immediately notified police and had him arrested. He was suspended from school for 5 days. We appealed without success. At the end of his hearing, they asked him what he’d learned from this experience. He replied: “I learned to never trust school authorities!”

    We withdrew him and home-schooled him for the rest of the year.

    Thanks for making note, again, of how ridiculous this policy is.

    Your son is clearly very intelligent! It’s pathetic you felt the need to homeschool, but I agree it was the smartest thing for you to do. -rc

  24. Here in the UK it’s a criminal offence to ‘waste police time’ and these time wasting bozos would be up on a charge for just that.

  25. In this link they refer to his being offered a demotion.

    I have also seen it referenced in a page on Fox News. Being new to the ‘States, I am not too certain whether they are credible.

    I like that you don’t just assume every media outlet is credible. Interestingly, the story you link to still says he was “forced to retire” — but it’s Bostic who indicates he might have been able to take a demotion. Still, thanks for replying to answer my question. -rc

  26. Thought this article I stumbled across this morning might be of interest — it’s about the policification (hey, new words have to start somewhere) of schools rather than ZT specifically, but there’s a degree of overlap.

    There’s a lot of overlap, and clearly “the next step”. The question is, do we really want to go down this path? -rc

  27. One mistake in 44 years! Well doing some basic math, assuming he went straight from high school to teachers college into teaching his age would be about 18 + 3 + 44 = 65 at least. Definitely time to retire.

  28. The principal used ZT thought processes even if ZT was not a policy (the article is not clear on this). It is nice poetic justice to see someone who uses the ZT thought process have it used against him as well.

    In most states teachers can teach until they turn 70 years of age when they MUST retire. As someone pointed out, this Principal was at least 65 (and probably older since most people take at least 4 years to finish their BS (or BA). To be an Administrator he also had to take additional courses (and maybe even get an advanced degree) over the years.

    But even way he was treated is better than the treatment the student received, because he was able to retire with FULL Pension! With so many years of service that means that he probably retires with at least 75% of his top 3 years pay, and maybe even as high as 90-100%. Most government pension plans are Defined-BENEFIT plans, where the employee makes a small contribution and the taxpayers guarantee a certain benefit after so many years of service, so that means the taxpayers of North Carolina are on the hook for this man’s pension until he dies (and for a lesser amount until his spouse dies as well, if he signed up for the Survivor annuity and is married). The child and parents had to FIGHT to get the child’s name cleared (and you can bet that child was ‘marked’ by “the system” for the rest of his days in that school system and so has probably had a rough time of it!

    Some called the treatment of the principal as ZT but if ZT had been used here is what would have happened: the principal would have been arrested and given a police record and summarily fired for cause and left with no pension and his life a complete wreck. Again, he came out far better than all of that.

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