Here we go again: more Zero Tolerance stories. This week (7 January 2007 issue) is, I think, the first time ever that the entire issue consists of ZT stories, starting with this one:
Dog Gone It
John Cave, 14, is deaf, but it doesn’t keep him from going to public school. He even has a new specially trained assistance dog to help him. But that’s the trouble: the W. Tresper Clarke High School in Westbury, Long Island, N.Y., says the boy “doesn’t need the dog” at school and, when the boy brought the dog anyway, school officials called the police. Responding officers refused to arrest the boy after confirming state law says public facilities cannot bar disabled people from having service dogs. Still, principal Timothy Voels refuses to allow Cave on school grounds if he has the dog with him, closing the door when he arrives with the dog. “All I wanted to do was give my son one more step toward independence,” says John’s mother, Nancy. (New York Newsday) …There’s your mistake, Nancy: Zero Tolerance-subscribing school officials don’t want kids to be independent, since that would give them an advantage.
Think the story is an outrage? (Well, yeah, I know: they’re all an outrage!) But here the school seems to think they’re above clear-cut law, too.
Screw the Law
Sure enough, the school is not backing down. You’d think the principal’s superior would step in and overrule, but district superintendent Robert Dillon actually backs the principal! He says the district “has taken the appropriate steps to evaluate this issue and has determined that the student does not need the service dog to access the district’s programs” — no matter what state and federal law says. The dog presents a “safety” issue, he claims, because of “allergy considerations” and “problems in navigating class and staff flow in the hallways and stairwells.”
So what’s next? According to another update in Newsday, the New York State Division of Human Rights has started an investigation — the first time in over a decade that the agency has instigated its own investigation without receiving a complaint first. A spokeswoman explained that just from the press coverage, it seemed obvious there was a violation of the law going on. Well, yeah.
Certainly this isn’t the first ZT case where officious officials don’t just bluster, but even knowingly violated clear-cut law. I mean really: obvious discrimination against a retarded child (as in another story this week*)?! And they think that this is OK, after years of very clear precedent in criminal and civil law that it’s not? Clearly not, but we need to ensure they hear about it, loud and clear.
*Update: the school superintendent in the retarded girl case stepped in and ordered the criminal charges against the girl be dropped. Thankfully someone in the district had a brain and some compassion, if not better knowledge of the law that the principal should have known. Details — and an informed editorial about how the school is supposed to handle such students — are in the Milton (Penn.) Standard-Journal [link removed, no longer online].
So What Will Happen?
First, ZT will continue to get worse until schools get the message loudly and clearly that we won’t let them get away with it. How does that happen? “By being fired” would be a great start, but as we see above, even their supervisors think ZT is a great thing.
So then what? I’m finally starting to see a real backlash with not only lawsuits being filed (with a couple of examples reported on in the Premium edition), but won by students. Sometimes it’s just principle involved: demands by students to be reinstated to school. Other times the schools are paying significant monetary damages. 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.
But that’s only schools. The Premium edition had a couple of non-school ZT stories. It’s to be expected: when kids raised in a ZT environment grow up and go out in the world, they do what’s so deeply ingrained in them at school: there is no gray, there’s only black and white — and boy, is it easy to get to the “black” side! When a photograph of a gun is thought to be the same thing as a gun, and punished accordingly, it can only lead to trouble. (Same thing? May as well bring a real gun, then!)
So yes, the problem will continue to get worse until there’s a backlash not only against schools, but other institutions that think ZT is a good idea. Lawsuits against schools have started, and it’s about time. Lawsuits against other institutions will surely follow.
Again, as I’ve explained on my ZT page, I’m not advocating tolerance for real transgressions. Kids who actually sexually harass other students (and you can be sure that does happen) should get real punishment. But a 4-year-old pressing his head on an aide’s boobies during a hug is not sexual harassment, and how does anyone think it’s OK to punish such a young child for that?
And there are plenty of other outrageous examples on my ZT page — and in True‘s archives. This insanity must stop; we’re destroying our children — the next generation of teachers, cops, and judges.
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