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”!
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?
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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Related from my Blog:
- Parents Work to Take Back the School (2005)
- Texas Legislators Start Rethinking ZT (2007)
- ZT Case Goes All the Way to the U.S. Supreme Court (2008)
- Florida Reverses its ZT Law (2009)
- All blog entries tagged ZT.
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