Just when I think there can’t be even more outrageous examples of Zero Tolerance — in schools or in real life — I come across more that I just can’t resist telling you about. But there is hope, which I’ll get to in a minute. First, one of the ZT stories from this week’s (25 February 2007) issue to illustrate:
Zero Tolerance, Zero Thought
Casey Harmeier, 10, a student at Beckendorf Intermediate School in Tomball, Texas, responded to a “dare” by another student to open the cover on a fire alarm pull switch. Everyone agrees that he didn’t intend to actually pull the alarm — and he didn’t. But opening the cover set off a horn designed to scare children against pulling the alarm, and when that went off an adult rushed over to silence it — and accidentally pulled the fire alarm. Principal Dolores Guidry called police, who hauled the boy away without notifying his parents. He was charged with setting a false alarm — a felony. When it became clear what really happened, the principal told prosecutors they were overreacting. The district’s assistant superintendent also asked that charges be dismissed. But prosecutors refuse, instead thinking that reducing it to a misdemeanor is sufficient. (Houston Chronicle) …In their quest to save face, prosecutors are willing to sacrifice a child. How proud their ethics professors must be.
The last time I did an essay on ZT I noted a couple of students sued their schools over the matter. One won $90,000 from the school, and $80,000 from the school’s armed ZT enforcement division — the local police department.
In the other case, a judge ordered the school to reinstate the student. I editorialized that such lawsuits will certainly be the way to end ZT in schools and other bureaucratic institutions.
An odd thing for the author of the True Stella Awards to promote? Not at all: I’ve always said that most lawsuits are legitimate. Just because some aren’t doesn’t mean that it’s not an effective tool in righteous situations. When suits against ZT are filed and won, it will certainly be a powerful tool for reform.
But there’s another tool that could be more effective, if only politicians would follow through: legislative action. After such cases as you read in True, state legislators often get into the act. Texas has a lot of ZT cases, and has had a lot of action from legislators — all, unfortunately, totally ineffective (so far).
My Voice is No Longer a Solo Act
I truly love it that other columnists are finally taking up the cause regarding ZT — something I’ve been doing since 1995 (more than ten years!) Anyway, after the fire alarm case, Houston Chronicle columnist Rick Casey wrote a piece titled “Bills Seek to Decriminalize Childhood” (now there’s a good idea!) He reported on several attempts in the Texas legislature to counter ZT in schools:
- “Rep. Rob Eissler (R-The Woodlands), who chairs the House Education Committee, tried to pass legislation two years ago that would have required school officials to take into consideration such factors as the child’s intention in the matter and his or her disciplinary history. The bill was watered down after school officials promised they would cut back on ‘zero tolerance’ idiocy.” As you have seen in True, they didn’t cut back on their idiocy. But too late: the empty promise killed the bill.
- “Rep. Dora Olivo (D-Missouri City) is pushing a bill that would allow a student who discovers he inadvertently left a Boy Scout knife in his pocket, or a hunting gun in his truck, to tell a school official and turn the knife or gun over without reprisal.” How sad that such a bill is needed, but it is.
- And most recently, “Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) says he may call [the fire alarm kid] to testify regarding legislation intended to turn ‘zero tolerance’ into ‘common sense’ at the state’s schools,” Casey reports. What a concept! Dutton is in a position to do something: he chairs the House Committee on Juvenile Justice & Family Issues and was “appalled” at the charges against the boy. And it’s not just that case that gets his attention. Cops, Dutton says, have “issued tickets for chewing gum.” Mr. Dutton, that’s hardly the most outrageous thing they’ve done! Luckily, he finds it outrageous that police departments are being used to enforce school rules.
In my opinion, this is where the real trouble often starts: the police take action, and sometimes find themselves in a position where they “have to” find a criminal charge to justify arresting the kids for school rule violations, and then the wheels of “justice” are put in motion, subjecting the kids to the possibility of truly harsh punishments for minor transgressions.
Once charges are filed, prosecutors feel like they have to keep pressing, since they’d lose face (and lose a case!) if they don’t see the charges through.
If police need to be called, and I don’t dispute that often they do, Dutton insists that parents be called first unless there’s a true emergency going on.
This is critical: kids often are programmed to respect adults, and they end up confessing to transgressions. What they’re really doing is confessing to crimes, providing sometimes the only solid evidence used to prosecute them. Parents need to realize that whatever their kids say “can and will be used against them in a court of law.”
Idiotic school principals will often even pressure the kids to write their confessions down and sign them — and then that’s used in court against the kids!
Advise the kids of their rights? No need: school officials aren’t the police, so they’re not required to do that. (They are, however, government officials, so it’d be interesting to see a lawsuit over this point.)
Parents need to learn this vital lesson: they must not allow their kids to confess transgressions, especially in writing, without the counsel of a lawyer. It’s truly sad that it’s come to this, but children are ending up with criminal records over truly trivial mistakes that kids make.
That’s “fire,” and school officials took the first shot. It’s time to fight fire with fire. Pull the alarm, Casey.
January 2009 Update
Prosecutor Cari Allen did finally drop the charges — days before the boy’s felony trial was to begin. Casey’s parents, furious over their son being under criminal indictment for more than six months, indeed sued the school; the district settled for $5,000. (Source)
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48 Comments on “Zero Tolerance: Fighting Fire With Fire”
Here’s something that just blows me away about this story: there’s a loud horn on the fire alarm pull station that goes off when the cover is opened? Are they insane? This is so stupid I cannot believe it, and as a taxpayer whose money was used to build that school (and pay those morons’ salaries) I truly object.
Let’s think about it just for a second. There’s a fire at the school, and someone rushes over to the alarm pull station to summon the fire department. They yank open the cover and suddenly a horn blares. Whew! Firemen will arrive in minutes now! They can rescue those poor trapped kids!
But no: the alarm hasn’t been pulled. You only think it has because you hear an alarm. No one has actually been summoned, but everyone thinks that the fire department has been alerted. Precious minutes tick by. The school burns down, the trapped kids die. All because some idiot school official thought it was a great idea to put an alarm on the alarm!
Unbelievable. But what can we expect from people who are paid $80,000 a year, and what they’ve come up with is “zero tolerance”?!
Kevin: I thought that felt a bit odd, but couldn’t figure out why; you clarified it. However, there’s a difference between a horn which presumably only blows for a couple of seconds at one spot, and an alarm that keeps on going all over the school. I agree with your point though, since in the confusion of a fire, whoever is trying to pull the alarm may not be thinking clearly. If they’re really concerned about it, they should put cameras in the hallways, so that they have a good chance of seeing whodunit.
Randy: I’ve always thought “can and will be used against them in a court of law” was an interesting phrase, if taken to its logical conclusion.
Classes on citizenship and critical thinking and practical skills for modern society are not already required? I think the first two (citizenship and critical thinking) should always have been, and the latter certainly needs to be nowadays.
Next: Minors do not have the same rights as adults (otherwise, dragging your kid around would be kidapping). I’d like to see a site which spells out exactly what rights (especially in the U.S., as I live in the U.S.) minors ARE considered to have. A comparative with some other countries might be interesting.
Kevin is right: such an “alarm on an alarm” would indeed be confusing in an already-confusing panic situation, and likely would falsely assure anyone in the vicinity that the fire department is on the way. And no, I doubt there are very many schools which offer — let alone require — classes in “citizenship and critical thinking and practical skills”, which is part of the problem! -rc
Parents don’t need to tolerate zero tolerance. Just pull your kids out of ZT schools and enroll them in online schools.
I enrolled my son in Colorado Virtual Academy this year. I made this decision shortly after a “dean” threatened my son with criminal charges under a city ordinance that had been repealed four years earlier because it was patently unconstitutional. Basically, the law made it a crime to say, do, or be anything that someone thought might possibly annoy someone at school.
Now I receive no phone calls about sagging pants; temporary tattoos; comic books; leather collars; ICP t-shirts; or other things that are no teacher’s business. I don’t have to investigate who hit who first on the bus. I don’t have to throw a bucket of ice water on my son to get him up at 6:00 a.m. 😉 He hasn’t been mugged and robbed this year.
He got a lovely HP computer; a flat-panel LCD monitor (I’m still stuck with a 19″ CRT); a multifunction printer; and about $500 worth of commercial software.
I get $39 a month towards my ISP bill, even during summer break. I get copies of all email sent to my son from COVA teachers. His up-to-the-minute grades are available online, along with any late assignments. When I need to speak with a teacher or administrator, email does the job within 24 hours. Conferences with several busy schoolers, which used to take a month to schedule, are now as easy as the “cc” field of an email.
The COVA staff averages 7 years of teaching experience vs. 12 years for the sponsoring school district overall. Interestingly, COVA teachers are willing to work for about one-third of the district-wide average salary. Working from home and choosing one’s hours has its advantages for both sides.
No, my son is not “socially isolated”. He has MORE time to socialize with his peers, and can do so normally. Try socializing during “passing periods” that give you three minutes to get from one floor of a high school warren to another, and 30 minutes for lunch.
Colleges look kindly upon the homeschooled. Such students have higher test scores overall, and more importantly they are able to manage their time; display initiative; and seek help when they need it. Brick and mortar schools do not help students learn those skills. One is told what to do, when, and exactly how.
Parents, you do not have to put up with moronic rules applied with zero tolerance. Demand an online school for your kids. K12.com will help you find one.
I agree that home schooling is a fantastic alternative, and ZT is one of the reasons it’s gaining favor. It can be a real problem if both parents work, or in single-parent families. But those who can work past those problems should definitely look into it. -rc
I am appalled that there are no citizenship classes.
Where did they go??
I distinctly remember taking a civic class at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, NY, that covered citizenship as well as current events.
But then again I also remember learning how to make a bed, and make toast in High School as well. There was also Chapel once a week.
A school where ninety percent were Jewish were required to hear the principal read from the Bible, sometimes Old Testament, sometimes New Testament. And we didn’t complain. OK we didn’t listen either, but we didn’t complain.
Where did we get all that time???
Sorry, I’m getting old and crotchety and reading about ZT only makes it worse.
Keep up the good work, reading This is True is the highlight of my time on the computer.
“Classes on citizenship and critical thinking and practical skills for modern society.” What a GREAT idea!!! Oh, wait, first you would have to find someone qualified to teach them – that would be like Diogenes wandering around looking for an honest man.
I agree with David about home schooling. Public schools receive money based on how many students attend. The more people that take their children out of classes because of ZT, the more likely the schools are to change.
I submit that there are people who are — or should be — qualified to teach those classes. I call them “parents”. That sounds glib, but this stuff is important, and if the schools are doing a terrible job teaching the concepts, then it’s the parents’ job to step in. We’ve given schools way too much power in this regard. -rc
Regarding the story about “horn-blowing” 10 year old, what happened to the “adult” that did pull the fire alarm? Weren’t they charged with pulling a false alarm? How can prosecutors be so egotistical that they wouldn’t drop the charges against the boy once the facts came out. I thought only school officials were allowed to be ZT idiots. I also agree that anyone caught in a burning building, especially a frightened child, would confuse the alarm-alarm with the real fire alarm and assume they had summoned help.
I haven’t heard a thing about the adult being charged. I have no doubt that it was simply declared “totally accidental” and immediately dismissed as such. Why such good sense didn’t apply to the kid is clear: because he’s a kid. Childhood has indeed been criminalized. -rc
I love all the talk on the cases involving kids, but I am not sure the “ZT IN REAL LIFE, MINNESOTA and MISSISSIPPI EDITIONS” rise to the level of outrageous. I believe there do need to be limits as to what private citizens do as far as enforcing the law. In Mississippi, the bail bondsman (does that mean bounty hunter?) continued an armed chase into an elementary school. It does not specify whether the bondsman had his weapon drawn or not, but how else did the school officials know to report him as such. What was he going to do shoot him in the hallway? Corner him so that he would be tempted to take a kid hostage? It was a burglar (apparently), not a mass murderer. He should have called police and written down any details about what he saw, or maybe kept an eye on where he went.
Likewise, the guy in Minnesota grabbed a gun (loaded or not is not highly relevant) and engaged in a high speed chase? Again, over a burglary? Owning a gun for self defense is legal, but only for defending your own property. You are not, thankfully, allowed to take that conflict on the road.
From my armchair position, I can’t tell if the two accused here were gun-happy vigilantes, turning a petty crime into a truly volatile situation, or if they were well intentioned citizens in a situation that got a little out of hand. I think it is good that we have some laws to protect us from the former, and would hope (probably foolishly, I know this is why we have ZT stories) that law enforcement would be sensible in the case of the latter. I just don’t think it’s inherently ridiculous for charges to be initially filed given the information provided.
I won’t debate all your points, in part because you’re commenting on stories that aren’t reproduced here, but let’s just take the first case. A trained security professional witnessed a felony, and gave chase to the armed felon. If that armed felon runs into a school where children are present (and they were), I want that trained professional to continue after him! Not just to catch him, but also to offer some sort of protection for those children! You propose that he just let the children fend for themselves? That would be outrageous! If he did, and the felon killed a couple of kids, you would be second in line calling for his head for shirking his duty. (Second, because parents would be first in line.)
How did the school know the security guard had a gun? The same reason we know cops have guns: you can see them in their holsters strapped to their belts. The source story noted the security guard was in a uniform. -rc
I didn’t suggest that he shirk his responsibilities, merely that, based on the information provided, the security guard’s response may not have been the most appropriate (and, yes, given several of the security guards I have experienced, I might want the kids to wait for the real police).
When the guard noticed him, he was not an armed felon, that is information after the fact.
He was someone who was likely a burglar.
Given the situation, he was probably not brandishing the knife (although that would change things considerably). The fact that the guard was in uniform also changes things considerably. But these are all details. You and I are not privy to many other details that I think could swing these particular stories from ZT ridiculous to merely unfortunate.
My intention was to point out that the laws behind the “gotcha” in the stories may be well founded, and, there is at least the possiblity that the charges weren’t completely unfounded.
Sorry for the confusion on the blog vs. email commentary. I’m only replying again to try to clarify my devil’s advocate position. I really don’t think I’m that far off base, and certainly don’t think the implications of my comments are in favor of allowing felons to kill kids. Did it really sound like that’s what I meant? I need to practice.
Thanks, Randy, for fostering independent thought and potentially changing the world, while still being one of my favorite diversions every week.
As usual when reading ZT stories, I found my face getting hot and my blood pressure going up. Injustice — which is of course what ZT stories are ultimately about — always infuriates me. The last section of your essay lifted my spirits somewhat: real attempts at reigning in ZT in our schools, hurray! The last paragraph, however, gave me a cold chill.
I have a daughter in middle school. It’s never occurred to me to caution her not to step up and be honest about any transgressions. (In fact, I’ve encouraged her to read a lot of “old-fashioned” books where the children are honourable and admit their part in any shenanigans — particularly to keep other children from taking the blame unfairly or alone.) Tonight I will be speaking with her about keeping her mouth shut until I get there should she ever become involved in any sort of problem at school, and under no circumstances confessing to anything without discussing it with me first. I’m really mad that I feel like I need to do this. What a world.
You should be mad that you feel a need to do that. But you do. It’s ridiculous, but it’s something every parent needs to consider. One of my own friends, a Premium subscriber, had his kicked out of school for life over a ZT case. My friend had read all the stories and knew the danger. But the kid — an honor roll student, smart, helpful, kind, and deeply religious — confessed to what he did (at a public park, not even on school grounds!) and that was used against him. They consulted a lawyer, but it was too late: the kid had confessed and he’s out. He’s probably better off: he’s home-schooling now. My friend actually feels lucky that the police were not involved. “What a world” indeed. -rc
The story about the security guard who was arrested and charged with a felony for chasing a thief through a school while wearing a pistol especially caught my attention.
This vividly reminded me of your own comments, written some time ago, from the closing paragraph of your zt3 page:
“Would you want someone who saved your family from being murdered to be tossed in jail? I don’t. But if people are ‘punished’ for ‘doing the right thing,’ they’ll learn to walk away and do nothing. We have — plenty of times — heard of people who ‘don’t want to get involved,’ and that attitude is to the detriment of our society. I want people to ‘get involved’ if they see me or my family being held at gunpoint! Don’t you? Thus, if society starts pressuring us to move in that direction, common sense demands that we speak out against it. It’s self destructive. It’s uncivilized. It’s irrational. It is wrong.”
Slightly different scenario, but the premise is the same! Would anyone REALLY have wanted this security guard to have said, “Whoa… wait up there, that’s a children’s school and I have a gun! I’d better just let that aggravated assailant and knife-wielding thief run around in there until he gets tired or bored and comes back out! Maybe I’ll just head on back to my office and call the principal to let him deal with it.” Um, no. If I were a parent in that neighborhood, I would insist on his commendation!
Blatant injustice is unconscionable, in any context. A soldier of war has a moral responsibility NOT to follow orders when instructed to inflict harm upon obvious noncombatants. Our city officials, government employees, principals and politicians carry that SAME responsibility.
Those who hide behind their ZT rules should be held equally accountable for such crimes.
While it may seem strange to some, I’ve come to find that your ZT-heavy issues are some of my favorites – because they make me so angry! – and I would not know about most of these stories without your efforts.
From my perspective, this subject has become as important, possibly more so, than tort reform and the Stella Awards. I’m beginning to think that this subject could stand on its own as a separate publication, or at the very least should have an annual “award of shame”, similar to your Stella. Please consider it. If not, I’d like to ask if you might put together a web page that contains a large collection, if not all of your ZT stories in one place. I often find that the stories speak better for themselves than a lengthy discussion about the subject, when it comes to helping others to realize the seriousness of the problem.
I have been thinking of doing a book on ZT and, more importantly, where such thought processes are leading us. I’ll take your note as a vote for that. -rc
Since laws differ among the 50 states, I don’t know the details among all of them. Still, some states do not permit questioning of children under the age of majority by police without parental or attorney presence. And any ‘confessions’ obtained by other parties can well be considered as ‘under duress’ and lose their value, if not their admittance, in court.
But here is advice given to me by an attorney many long years ago: NEVER plead guilty, even if you’re guilty as sin! Why? Because, once you plead guilty, the case is over. The judge has no choice but to sentence you. Nothing more to be said.
By pleading NOT guilty, you get the opportunity to tell your side of the story. You may still be found guilty. But your story may also contain mitigating circumstances that the judge can take into consideration upon sentencing.
Lastly, between cops and prosecutors, there must be hundreds of thousands of professionals in those positions. Our legal system would be worthless if they were all crooked. Yet, it’s a Pollyanna pipe dream to believe that every one of them is a selfless dedicated individual determined to root out the absolute truth and render pure justice for all. As in any profession, many of them are looking for the easiest, simplest wrap-up that makes it look like they did their job.
The reason the Constitution contains the 4th & 5th Amendments is not because we’re a nation of criminals, but because it’s common knowledge that many officials look for the easiest, not necessarily the best, way to do their jobs.
Never let ANY self-righteous person use false guilt to deprive you of what is rightfully yours just to make their job easier for them. Just because I ‘have nothing to hide’ doesn’t deprive me of the right to privacy when I take a shower.
rc sez: “I submit that there are people who are — or should be — qualified to teach those classes. I call them “parents”. That sounds glib, but this stuff is important”
In modern society, you have latchkey kids, kids living on the wrong side of the wrong side of the tracks (even if the parents themselves are upstanding), single parents (who might barely have time and energy to cook something to eat), and so forth. Whether the parents do it or not, I think it is to everyone’s benefit if the schools do it also, just to be sure that SOMEONE does. I think they should start at the earliest age level able to understand it, and refresh and enhance every couple of years, and certainly have a class the year before dropping-out is allowed. I think I had a single semester of some kind of practical skills class in high school; I think it was in the last year. I also had a home economics class (optional, I think) in middle school.
rc sez: “When you witness the man committing a felony, he is a felon — right at that moment.”
To you he may be a felon, but to everyone else (who hasn’t seen the event), he is (and should be) a suspect, and to the criminal justice system, he’s (officially) innocent until convicted as (not “proven”) guilty (and you hope that the convict really is guilty). An armed person unexpectedly appearing in a school, whether in a uniform (which could be faked) or not, should be viewed as alarming. Yet, if the guard’s credentials and story checked out, the matter should have been dropped instantly and an apology given for any (necessary) hassle.
On the student confessions front, I once sat in on a meeting of school resource officers (real police officers assigned to school campuses as a “friendly presence”) — one of the things that came up was interviewing students. Aparently this has been litigated (I don’t know what the cases were off the top of my head).
Since the school officials act ‘in loco parentis’ (In the place of the parents), they can do just about anything the real parents would do. It was also made very clear that under most circumstances it was OK for the officer to be in the room while the administrator was interviewing the student but the school official must conduct the interview entirely on their own; anything else creates Miranda rights/lawyer issues (as I recall, if there is a police officer silently watching a principal interrogate a student, that student has no right to an attorney; on the other hand as soon as the officer starts asking questions if the student requests an attorney one must be provided).
Hence parents should truly understand the importance of being there, since the kids certainly will incriminate themselves. The police can certainly take notes during such interviews! -rc
Funny (but not ha-ha funny) thing how things are totally opposite in different countries.
Here in Finland prosecutors who dismiss cases are mostly appreciated highly.
If I had been the parent of the 10 year old arrested for the fire alarm incident, I would have gotten in the DA’s (or ADA’s) face and refused to accept a plea bargain – I would have insisted on a trial by his peers. Uh, oh yeah, that’s right, you can’t have a trial by his peers because he ONLY 10 YEARS OLD! Fine, a trial by adults, so you can parade your idiocy even further. Call the newspapers, television stations, raise a big stink.
How can a child be held responsible for a confession? They are under age!
In Loco Parentis? HAH! In Loco Brain, maybe. I raised my kids to not trust adults simply because they are an adult and this kind of garbage is why I did that. Sometimes they may seem borderline disrespectful from another adult’s point of view, but that’s simply because they aren’t used to a kid they can’t brow beat – one that can go toe to toe with them in the battle of the wits.
Those parents should sue the district attorney’s office and the school for such lunacy.
I have a BS and an MS in education, an MLS (Librarian), as well as a PhD, also in an educational speciality. I have taught on all levels from middle school to the graduate level, and I have quit the field of public education. Zero Tolerance (ZT) and Politically Correctness (PC) are only two of the reasons why I am no longer in public education.
School on the K-12 levels, is a place where bad pay and unions are the plague of the teacher corps. It is a place where the most capable leave for better careers and the worst are never held accountable. It is a place where ZT and PC infect the entire system. It is a place where “Self Esteem” is more important than learning or personal responsibility. And it is a place where standards are lowered just to be able to maintain mediocrity.
Society and the schools must foster a culture that schools are a safe place to go to LEARN. A place where education is job one and that ALL extracurricular and social activities are secondary to learning. And if a student chooses not to study, at least they will not interfere with another student’s opportunity to take advantage of the educational opportunity to learn.
Students must expect school to be a place where they will receive an education that helps them become a productive member of society. It must not be a place where they learn to believe that personal accountability does not exist and that society owes them and must conform to their whims.
The American public school system is broken and the only folks who can fix it are the politicians and other elected officials who are in fact the ones who are profiting from the mess.
It’s very sad that someone who is so obviously intelligent and educated cannot find a place to teach our children — and I’m sure there are a lot of people like him. Our schools are on a steep downhill slope, and I’m wondering if it’s too late to save them — and the children that are using them. -rc
Randy, I am SO pleased that someone is taking on this ZT nonsense! The entire education system needs an overhaul. Teachers used to TEACH, now they are hamstrung nannies, forced to put up with shennigans of little un-parented kids who are fed lousy “food”, sent to school at an hour when normal people are still sleeping, made to analyze the “symptoms” of their charges so that the Medical-Psychiatric types can force feed them drugs, overseen by overpaid and overstuffed bureaucratrs, held in thrall by the NEA, and actually mis-educated themselves! Remember the good old days of Phonics”? Kids could read then. Keep up the most excellent work.
Regarding the possible lawsuit against principals getting students to ‘confess’ – police officers and firefighters can be ordered to answer questions in an internal investigation. Refusal could result in discipline, a sort of double edged sword. They are protected during this type of questioning by the “Garrity” law which states incriminating statements cannot be used against them criminally. It does not, however, protect them in civil action. In ZT matters the children would not have to worry as the school offical has no protection under Garrity.
There needs to be an outlet other than resorting to the police. There needs to be another level in schools or the police department that negotiates a settlement that does not involve a 10 year-old with a misdemeanor on his criminal record. A criminal record that will follow them for life. The Internet has eliminated the privacy protections of the court system (juvenile and adult).
School is a place to make mistakes and learn from them. When you leave school and go out into the real world, the mistakes you make are your responsibility. Schools are throwing these kids out into the real world like a mother bird throwing out her chicks way too early. Teachers probably feel terrible that all their efforts are for nothing.
Banks get robbed, victims get raped, and police are arresting a notorious 8 year old. There are clearly times when police need to intervene at schools, but in-house problems need to be handled that way.
When I was studying to become a teacher, we were taught that as government officials we MUST respect our students’ Constitutional rights – for example, unless we had a very good reason to suspect that a specific student has taken a calculator, we cannot search anyone’s bag for it. I would imagine it applies to making sure the kids know their rights before confessing to a crime – which, IIRC, kids must have a parent or an advocate present to do.
Nice to hear not all districts completely disregard students’ rights. Surely there are others; it’s a good reminder. -rc
There’s one surefire way to get all this ZT foolishness taken care of in the schools – home school your kids. It’s a lot cheaper than a lawsuit and no more work than being an involved parent in a public (or private) school. It’s not a cakewalk, but it gives your kid(s) a great student to teacher ratio and a teacher who really cares about them (you).
We’ve been home schooling our three boys for 9 years. It is more expensive than sending them to public school – we don’t drive a new car every year or so, go out to eat much, or have an HD TV. But it allows us to spend extra time on subjects they’re having touble with, while quickly treating subjects they have a knack for, and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than any private school i know of.
With the advent of the internet and search engines, home schooling has become much easier, and there are home schooling groups all across the country, where you can ask questions and get advice and tips from other home schooling parents.
Many people bring up the question of socialization with home schooled children, and while I’m not exactly clear on why locking a child in a room with 20 or 30 other kids of the same age for six or so hours a day is a great boon to socializing a child (when you’re in the “real world” you interact with people of all ages), this can be satisfied by community sports leagues; church functions; 4-H; and Boy and Cub Scouts to name a few.
If you vote with your feet, the schools will figure it out rather quickly when their bugets get slashed due to a big drop in students. I don’t envision a rash of home schooling to be the result of this letter, I’m just trying to make people think. There are solutions other than lawsuits and more legislation. But on the off chance that someone’s curiosity is piqued in regard to home schooling, I strongly advise you to first investigate your state’s policy regarding home schooling, each state is different and the requirements vary widely.
I often cringe at the ZT stories in schools that you publish. I happy to say I live in a state that seems to have used common sense in the creation of “Safe School Zone” laws, where a lot of these stem from.
I am a campus safety officer at a private school, and we, on occasion, have situations that violate these laws. The police and educators are given fairly wide discretion in responding to incidents. Our laws only specify what type of actions must be “reported” to the police. That is the only stipulation. 99 times out of 100 the police will defer to the school district’s policy, which is often reasonable, unless a serious crime has been committed. We have several “Zero Tolerance” policies where I work; but they do not require the automatic “beheading” of the student, that so many school districts seem to have. Even in my children’s school district, these ZT policies are thoughtful and constructive.
The best way I have seen to help defuse potential problems in schools is the use of “School Resource Officers”; police officers specifically assigned to schools. Theses officers are in the schools every day, walking the halls, hanging out in the library, attending sporting events (rooting for their school) and having lunch with the kids, and being visible and approachable. The officers are given ownership of the programs, and they make them work. I know several who couldn’t think of a better job in law enforcement, and really love what they do.
I am sure stupid stuff like what you report happens here, but I thought it would refresh you to know that, at least in NH, we are trying to do the right thing.
It’s refreshing indeed. I did a quick search of my archives for “zero tolerance” and “New Hampshire” and came up empty. Perhaps your state really is living up to its motto — “Live free or die.” -rc
When my youngest son (now 16) was in 3rd grade we had the opportunity to experience ZT first hand. Aaron is high-functioning autistic, and therefore, what might seem common-sense to others in terms of socially acceptable behavior, isn’t for him. The school was well aware of this fact, and in fact had him in special services to assist him in learning how to interact with other children.
On the day in question, we had just watched a movie the previous night where a child was a spy, and had told someone, when questioned, that if he answered the question he would have to kill them. So, my son, at recess, was darting around and ducking behind objects, pretending to be a spy, and when one of the other children asked him what he was doing he replied “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you”. Of course, at that moment, a teacher passed by, and that was the only part of the whole incident she witnessed, thereby sending my son to the office for threatening to kill another student.
So, in the principal’s office, detailed questioning revealed what the alleged death threat was all about. That is where it should have ended, right? Instead, I received a phone call from the principal stating that he was being suspended for a day because he’d threatened to kill another student. When I asked exactly what had happened, the principal was laughing so hard that he struggled to speak, but did that diminish the ‘requirement’ to suspend my son. Not in the slightest.
What an idiot. Not to mention that it’s my understanding that “special education” students are generally exempt from ZT. Either way, it’s pathetic. -rc
When I was just 8 years old, a buddy and I wanted to start fires in an orange grove in Highgrove, California. No trees were burned, and we got caught.
We were taken before a judge (in his chambers) and sternly lectured about what would happen to us if we continued on our arsonist’s career.
My parent’s punishment was for me to sit at a washtub, light and throw matches into it for an hour. My fascination with flame was extinguished. The year was 1942.
Not to mention that it’s my understanding that “special education” students are generally exempt from ZT.
Well that’s a nice little wrinkle — there is no better way to erode respect for the rule of law than selective enforcement.
The law commonly excepts those who can’t distinguish between right and wrong. -rc
In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards. – Mark Twain.
If I recall correctly, the reason we ended up with zero-tolerence policies in the first place is because the idiots in charge lacked the common sense to do what was necessary. I can’t recall any specifics, but I seem to remember hearing of students selling drugs, flashing guns, or waving switchblades, being given slaps on the wrist, and returning to school just days later.
All this shows is that the same morons who couldn’t discipline kids when they had a free hand still can’t be trusted to get it right.
ZT is a waste of time and money. Nothing more to say about that. One thing that hasn’t been brought up, why are the fire alarms so low to begin with? They must not be very high if the students can be rough housing and knock a cover ajar. Also, why wasn’t the teacher that actually pulled the alarm not charged? She did it by “accident”? Thought ZT was ZT.
Shame on you principal Dolores Guidry, shame on you Tomball Police Department, and the BIGGEST SHAME is for the Prosecuting Attorney Cari Allen; pretty sad to have such a job that going after this kid is the only way to get ahead.
Yes, ZT is ZT — but we’ve seen time and time again that it’s only ZT for students. Nice example to set, eh? -rc
I have always believed that public schools were best for all-round education. I believed that was because there was a greater variety of people in there, both students and teachers, and volunteers as well. I believed this taught the young student how to interact with more kinds of people, and helped with socialization for a lifetime.
But, this thread is scaring me! I’m starting to think home schooling may be the best thing. How can anyone subject their kids to this sort of abuse, both actual and potential?
When I was in high school, for example, there were GUN CLUBS that met in the classrooms after school. Students/kids back then were taught what firearms were for, and how to handle them. Now a police officer is being framed for carrying his weapon to the scene of a crime? How awful! How stupid!
No chewing gum, no playing “tag” on school grounds…dumber and dumber! I am so glad my kids made it through school without any of this nonsense. There’s rules and then there’s rules…college graduates should be able to tell the difference. Or, should we blame the teachers’ parents and teachers for all of the current problems, the same way the students are catching it now? Are only crazy people becoming teachers these days? (Go ahead, make my day! I’m ready for all responses!)
Only one correction, Sue: It was a private security guard who was in pursuit of the felon, not a police officer. But otherwise, you’ve got the right idea. -rc
Karen asked: “One thing that hasn’t been brought up, why are the fire alarms so low to begin with? They must not be very high if the students can be rough housing and knock a cover ajar.”
My husband asked the same question. I then reminded him of the size of some of the elementary school children that he teaches when he substitutes. At ten years old, this boy is in at least the 4th (if not the 5th or 6th) grade. It is not uncommon to see boys that age upwards of 5’4″ tall. Now compare that to the average American woman who stands 5’4″-5’5″ tall. I am 5’5″ tall, and I wouldn’t want the alarm placed somewhere I couldn’t easily reach it in an emergency.
Then there’s the complication of local building safety codes. In a public building, many municipal codes require alarm, elevator, and light switches be placed at handicapped-accessible heights. That means right down there where wheelchair-bound adults and small mischievous children can reach them.
The placement of the alarm makes sense. It’s the punishment for setting the thing off that doesn’t.
I can’t believe how lucky I am to teach in a school that uses common sense! A couple of years ago we had some students who were goofing off before track practice who pulled a fire alarm. The students immediately went to the office and turned themselves in. Their parents were called and school appropriate discipline (either detention or Saturday school; I forget which) was assigned to the students.
We’ve had many similar events in our school system and the police are only called when absolutely necessary. Don’t give up hope! Zero tolerance can be tempered/negated by common sense. By the way, our school does have a “zero tolerance” policy; obviously it’s used with thought and consideration of intent.
I see two conclusions from Zero Tolerance. One is that we don’t trust anyone else to make intelligent decisions. So take that capability away with One Size Fits All decision policy. Two is that too many people are afraid that someone might get way with a Thou Shalt Not!
The first one boils down to a few people displaying and abusing power in their authority. I’m BOSS and you’d better know it or you’ll pay for it. The other is that it’s better to convict a hundred innocents rather than let a single guilty person get away with it.
Both are character flaws of the basest, most dispicable clawing and scrabbling between mediocre or substandard individuals determined to prove that one is better than the rest.
What a GREAT piece of advice for ALL parents: advise your children of their rights. As I continue to read your This is True emails, it occurs to me that I should probably compile a booklet for my daughter, so that she can be prepared for any ridiculous stunt that the ill-equipped and poorly trained ‘educators’ may spring on her.
If you do it, consider sending it to me for possible publication on my web site. -rc
I am amazed! I looked up references to “in loco parentis” in which school principals can act in place of the parent concerning students. What an incredible conflict of interest. What is the duty of the principal? To act in the best interest of the school? Or in the best interest of the student? To act in the interest of the school by advising a student to surrender his rights should be struck down in court as deliberately misleading if not criminal. The alternative is to sue the school for giving false/misleading advice. There are attorney grievance commissions for such offenses and sounds like there should also be such for school systems.
I repeat that I’m amazed there haven’t been court cases on this exact point, especially when you consider that principals are, by virtue of who pays them, “government agents”. -rc
One of the things that exacerbates the ZT problem is something that permeates our society even beyond ZT, a pattern that pops up often enough to be recognizable – I call it ‘prioritizing PR over actual effectiveness’. Trying to look effective is prioritized over actually being effective. It’s pervasive in both politics and in business, among both conservatives and liberals. The prosecutor who insists on making some charge in order to make it look like police action was worthwhile is committing exactly this error – prioritizing the attempt to control appearances over actually doing his job effectively.
The irony is that in the long run it doesn’t work. C.S. Lewis proposed a principle that is applicable here, the principle of First and Second Things (see the Lewis collection God in the Dock, the essay ‘First and Second Things’). It says that ‘every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made’. It applies here.
Prioritizing the partial good of trying to control appearances so you look effective over the total good of actually being effective eventually results in you looking even more ineffective than you actually are. You may be able to spin appearances for awhile, but eventually people realize it is spin, and begin to wonder what’s going on behind the spin. And once the speculations begin, people are quite capable of imagining far worse mistakes than you’ve actually committed. In the long run, you’re far better off quickly acknowledging the mistakes, oops, and errors made in life, and demonstrating that you’re capable of learning from them, than you are trying to pull together the best spin you can to cover over them. In the long run, we trust people who acknowledge they’re human and make mistakes over those who do their best to put on an error free (or ‘significant-error-free’) facade.
The problem isn’t just ZT, it’s the additional dogged attempt to put the best face on the mistakes resulting from it, and the resultant failure to learn from them (you can’t publicly learn from your mistakes if you refuse to publicly admit you’ve make them).
My boys have finally reached the point in their educational careers (2nd and 3rd grades) at which I decided to explain the dangers of Zero Tolerance policies to them. My desire to explain things to them was brought on by my years of reading the horror stories of what ZT can do to children in your column, and specifically those stories in the Feb. 25th edition. It is so sad that I feel the need to explain such things to my kids at such a young age, but the need is obviously great. The most chilling revelation was your bringing to light that our children are programmed to respect adults. It is an indictment of the ZT system that I had to instruct my children only to respond to faculty requests for confession (or even explanation) with “I can not discuss this with you until my father is present” simply to protect their rights.
My 2-year subscription renewal has just been run through PayPal. I look forward to another 100 or so weeks of your particular sense of humor. I also look forward to having my eyes opened to the world we are creating for our children, with a bit of fear, and a lot of hope for improvement.
It is sad that you feel the need to do that, but indeed I think you do. The phrase you taught them is simple, but probably hard to remember to utter in a time of stress, especially if they’re pushed by the government agent involved (read: school principal). -rc
Two things about ZT. When students sue school districts the ultimate losers are the taxpayers of the district. The school loses and the taxpayers are out $100,000 or so, but the ZT police (school administrators) are usually untouched, unaffected and unchanged. Until these type of suits start adversely effecting the individuals they will probably have little effect.
Secondly, it is the ultimate absurdity that schools are supposed to be training children in higher level thinking are led by those who have Zero Tolerance for thinking.
I can’t agree with you more on both points. And once the taxpayers are stung, maybe then they’ll start paying attention to what the people they hire are doing, and demand change. As I noted in a previous posting, “It absolutely sucks that taxpayers have to pay out for the obvious mistakes of school officials, but if that’s what it takes to get the message across, then that’s what it takes.” -rc
Your remarks about it being the parents job to teach civics and responsibility sound fine. I’m all for it. But do we really think that those who have not been taught these things will be able to teach them?
Worse yet, Igor, do you really want people, who only THINK they’ve been taught, teaching those subjects in error to your kids? Elsewhere, I commented about teachers who have insisted that there are 52 states in the U.S. and called my daughter a dummy in front of the class for having the tenacity to argue the point. (One insisted that Wash D.C. and Puerto Rico were states. Another said that Puerto Rico and Guam were states. The Superintendent of Schools states unequivocably that he always sides with his teachers; now get out of his office!)
I’ve also commented that social manners have nearly disappeared, ostensibly, I believe, due to people’s perceptions that manners implies weakness. Someone has to lead, so I use such social graces wherever I can. I’ve also passed those values on to my kids. Only a teacher who has been ‘taught’ better would call the Children’s Protective Services and testify in court that, according to their professional training, I am handicapping my children’s future by teaching them such arcane and useless conventions as manners. (The result of that confrontation was a draw, as I had the weight of a business also in the field of education behind me, along with dozens of character witnesses. The draw was that the court was also not inclined to rule against teachers who were ‘only looking out for the best interests of the students.’)
As ignorant as I’ve found teachers to be, I’d be more comfortable with stupid parents teaching their kids than ‘educated’ teachers.
Them that can,… do.
Them that can’t,… teach.
And them that can’t teach,… teach teachers.
I find it rather ironic the state punishes parents for spanking their children, yet have no conscience whatsoever about applying a form of punishment that is 100 times worse via a network of corrupt social services, LE and renegade prosecutors; all over a dare to a 10 year old boy to remove simple snap on plastic, harmless! dust cover. Are you kidding me, this is a joke, right? If this doesn’t wake up voters (sleeping Christians), nothing will.
Here’s one more for Zero Thought! My daughter handed a classmate her bottle of aspirin because he asked if she had a couple. Instead of passing little pills around the classroom she handed the clearly marked bottle, the same bottle the aspirin was purchased in. Her classmate took the bottle out of the classroom with him and at lunch ingested 20 of those aspirin. Super-sensitive kid, distraught over his girlfriend leaving him just wanted to forget about his problems…no intent of suicide, not a drug user, so he thought he could get “high”. My daughter had no intent of helping him get high, he asked for an aspirin for his headache!
Well to make a very long story short, my daughter was pulled out of class and admitted to giving her friend a bottle of aspirin. Was informed that school policy states it is a “drug”, therefore must be treated as any other drug, legal, illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter. Both her and her classmate were suspended for 10 days out of school, and the principal recommended another 30 days in-school suspension. Both kids would also have to submit to a drug test, before being let into school. If they were found “clean”, their 40 day sentence would be cit in half.
Ourselves as well as the young man’s family appealed. We met with the school board, armed with a letter from her pediatrician, stating it was in her best interest to return to school, and her negative drug test. We pleaded on behalf of our daughter to be permitted to return to school. She was an A-B student with no other disciplinary actions other than a detention for not dressing out in gym, under her belt.
Our appeal with met with opposition. We received a call later on that night stating the board has agreed to uphold her sentence. We were crushed and really feel the board is using her and her classmate as an example of what can happen to a child with an OTC medication.
We could appeal again, but have decided to contact our representatives instead. I am all for changing the law that took the authority out of the teachers and administrators hands. I am contacting all the media in our area and plan to bring notice to some of the ridiculous outcomes of the so-called zero-tolerance policy. We have been interviewed by a local news station that has vowed to keep up with the story. My local and state representatives will be next. The school board will be tabling the policy in two weeks, I plan to be there and help them review the policy.
I really think, in our case, the possession of aspirin or methamphetamines should not be handled alike. And the punishment for said possession should not be the same, especially if the intent of the aspirin was to relieve a headache.
“Not to mention that it’s my understanding that “special education” students are generally exempt from ZT.”
Unfortunately, this is not the case, at least not in Georgia. My son is on the autism spectrum, and I am a member of several support groups for children with disabilities in this state. I have heard I cannot even count how many stories of children with different disabilities, anything from ADHD to Cerebral Palsy, being punished under Zero Tolerance, even for things that clearly stemmed from their disabilities. My own son was suspended for 3 days at age 8 for “hitting a teacher”. He was “hand-flapping”, an self-stimulating autistic behavior so classic that it was used in the move “Rainman” for goodness sake, and ended up flapping a teacher in the face when she got close to him to try to force him to stop.
Children with disabilities are told that they just need to try harder. How can a child with virtually no fine motor skills try harder to hold a pencil properly? How can a child with autism just try harder to understand social skills when they are not usually taught and their brains are not wired that way? How will I protect my son from Zero Tolerance if he cannot even understand why he should not correct a teacher in class, even if he is right?
I am very fearful of middle school, where children are expected to be little adults, and not to ask parents for assistance with anything. He will be in a very scary place for a while, and I cannot homeschool. We need my job in order to keep our home.
I’m amazed that this is the case in some states, but this certainly does show the lack of any actual thinking regarding the concept of enforcing “zero tolerance”, and how children are victimized by it. I’m working hard to get it stopped; obviously it’s taking longer than I thought…. -rc
I graduated H.S. in 1994, just before the ZT stuff really started to get in gear. We had a bit of it, but it wasn’t anything like the monstrosity it has become.
Much like “Morgan, Tallahassee” wrote, I went to college to become a teacher (music and english, specifically), Despite graduating, gaining the degree, and holding a teaching certificate, I have never taught at a public school.
While I was going through college, I was observing what was going on in U.S. public schools (and even some private schools). By the time I got my degree, I had already decided that I wasn’t going to teach, for several reasons. It’s too bad I didn’t make that decision before spending so much time on something I’d never use.
ZT policies that were getting worse and worse had a big effect on that decision. Pay (and arts funding) was another part of it, of course. Add to all of that the treatment given to male teachers on even the suspicion of impropriety.
With those three big negatives in front of me, I decided to do other things with my life. Even with all of that, it was a tough decision, as I really wanted to teach. Since then, I’ve done private and small group music lessons, and some English and math tutoring, but I’ve never entered the public school system.
My advice to parents…
If you can, take your kids out of the schools that follow ridiculous ZT policies. Homeschool them or send them to private schools, if you can.
If you must send your child to a school like this, give them the advice mentioned by other parents. Explain to your children how ZT works. As one person posted, tell them not to “confess” to anything. And, if ZT policies hit your child unjustly, fight back.
Ah, reading one of the comments is appalling. Autism Spectrum Disorder? ZT? Bad combo. Here in Montana, things are different but you still see stuff like this once and a while (which, in most cases, quickly expunged). PLUCK, an organization that hands out IEPs (Improvised Educational Program I believe) to people with things like Autism which CLEARLY OUTLINE THE QUIRKS OF THE CHILD IN QUESTION. Going against an IEP is considered suicide (of the job kind), and several teachers I’ve been with did feel its sting (not the ‘you’re fired, and likely not to get another job in this field again’ kind).
Anyway, it gets me steaming on things like this going on. I recommend anyone that they go to their nearest IEP provider and ask for help. They will help you and those IEPs are pretty good at keeping ZT away. If you can’t get those, start citing the big book… as in federal. If the crime isn’t worth the punishment, blow the whistle and throw the book at them. It should teach them a lesson.
The Individualized Education Program is mandated in the U.S. by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In Canada and the U.K., the equivalent document is called an Individual Education Plan. -rc
“a bill that would allow a student who discovers he inadvertently left a knife in his pocket, or a hunting gun in his truck, to tell a school official and turn the knife or gun over without reprisal.”
Better yet, teach the kid not to say anything about it to anyone at school, not even friends. Go off-campus at lunch, if he has to, to put the knife from his pocket into a locked glove box, and do it where nobody from school can see it.
The rifle in the trunk should be unloaded & encased anyway, so it’s not breaking any law (at least, in states which follow the federal “gun-free” school zone statute). Best to let it be.
It’s likely (in most states) that the school official has no clue about firearm safety, so leaving it in the trunk is safe, handing it to someone without a clue is very very unsafe. Plus, it’s likely they’d contact the police (even though the law says the kid is not to be punished), and then they steal the gun, and you have a legal battle to get it back.
There’s no reason to turn over ANY personal property to a school official.
If possible, don’t park on school property. That way, there’s NO possibility of confusion, or any school official or enforcer (police) claiming that they have the ‘right’ to search any vehicle parked on the property. (They don’t.)
Except that if you’ve been reading TRUE, you’ll find cases of off-campus problems triggering ZT sanctions by school officials too. -rc
BTW, for the people talking about a bounty hunter chasing someone who’s armed into a school… That bounty hunter is also breaking the law (federal, if not state) and should also be punished. Bet he won’t be.
The federal “gun-free” school zone law, and state laws which are based on it, has a short list of exceptions to “you can’t have a firearm within 1000′ of a school”, which is the overall law.
One of those exceptions is _on_ _duty_ law enforcement officers (police, sheriff, etc.). That doesn’t cover off-duty cops, or bounty hunters.
Another is that the gun is unloaded & encased. That obviously does not describe an armed bounty hunter chasing someone into a school.
I think the law is foolish, because it’s not stopping criminals from harming children but it does stop the good responsible adults who want to protect children from being able to do so.
Also, it’s used to punish good people who are so used to being armed that they remember too late that (in states which don’t follow the federal “gun-free” school zone law) the school is a ‘special place’, and don’t have the presence of mind to calmly walk back to their car, leave the property, and come back a little while later with a white lie about forgetting their wallet.
Bet he was — but I’m not going to bother researching it to find out for sure. -rc
I only wanted to point out Randy, that the whole ‘police charge to justify arrest, the wheels of justice go into motion’ thing is what happens to adults too. I have learned to NOT call the police unless absolutely necessary — that is, if serious threat to life is involved as they too often jump conclusions that they have to justify later. Property can be replaced and it’s way less expensive than paying lawyers.
Just a note on how schools have changed: We recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of a track coach who engendered tremendous respect and affection in the process of creating teams which went undefeated for 10 years. He told us that 1963 was his first time coaching track. Two members of the team wanted a weight room; one offered the weights if he could find a place for them, and they said they’d take responsibility for the weight program. He hunted around, talked with officials, and they agreed to convert the (now unused) rifle range to a weight room. Yes, my high school had a rifle range in the basement! I don’t know whether it was for a competition team, an extracurricular club, firearm safety courses, or some special provision during World War II (or all of the above), but it was there. And this wasn’t Texas, either, although it was definitely a rural area.
My understanding is that wasn’t all that uncommon, at least into the 50s. -rc