Zero Tolerance Thwarted by Common Sense

The first story in True about “zero tolerance” appeared in June, 1995, and I started railing about the concept soon after. It took more than a decade before I starting noticing other columnists editorializing against ZT.

I’m surprised it took that long, since the cases are so ridiculous — and so sustained, rather than an aberrant “here and there” sort of thing.

Well, the pressure is starting to build. It’s not just the Savana Redding school-strip-search case, which should be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court any day now, but case after case after case after case.

The Legislative Fix

One state has had enough of it. A state that gets more than its share of story write-ups in True: Florida.

Gov. Charlie Crist went to a high school in Jacksonville, Fla., to sign Senate Bill 1540, which requires school boards to revise their zero tolerance policies to have …well… a bit of common sense. Students can’t be expelled or referred to the police for “petty acts of misconduct,” but rather, schools have to show that any student who is expelled or sent through the law enforcement gauntlet “pose a serious threat to school safety.”

In other words, school officials now have to do what they’re paid to do: deal with minor infractions of the rules themselves. What a concept.

“It doesn’t punish those who should not be punished,” Crist said.

Common Sense

I’ve long called for schools to punish actual bad behavior, like having real guns and drugs in schools. Yet all over the country, kids are being expelled for drawing pictures of guns (nevermind that there are pictures in their textbooks of guns) or sharing candy (“facsimile drugs!!” — yeah, right).

The Florida bill had no opposition in the House or Senate, which only goes to show just how stupid ZT is when it’s examined with an open mind. Congratulations to “Flor-i-duh” for getting it right. May the rest of the states quickly follow.

True’s first ZT story is here.

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10 Comments on “Zero Tolerance Thwarted by Common Sense

  1. About time! Can’t believe that finally someone decided to inject a dose of sense into this insane situation.

    Politicians, even! -rc

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  2. Now if we can just get Florida to repeal mandatory uniform codes in the schools… or allow parents a real opt-out. Maybe in the future. I sure hope so.

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  3. You congratulated “Flor-i-duh” for getting it right, but you deserve congratulations as well. Had you not hammered on this issue for twelve years, most people would have gone on applauding ZT. I am happy and very much relieved to see a shift in thinking. We can only hope it catches on. So, yes, congratulations to Florida, and the lion’s share of congratulations to you for having ZT on ZT.

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  4. I have good and bad thoughts on this matter. Having held a POST certificate in CA and gone through PC832, do you really wait until the rounds start flying before you do something with the maladjusted youth involved? If someone does something stupid yet not deadly, do we treat them as felons? But at the same time, when we don’t pay attention to the “lost cases” that the “j units” are working with trying to get things right and they cap your kid, the neighbors kid, and so on… where do you draw the line. Your commentary which I almost always agree with seems to want it both ways. Did your kid get popped for something and we have sour grapes? If a kid makes a threat, do we wait until a couple of outcasts does a mini-population? OK, knee jerk reaction. Where is the middle ground? Thanks for keeping me thinking fellow, CA POST holder.

    For those wondering, “POST” is Police Officer Standards and Training, the professional certification after an academy, and PC-832 is the California Penal Code definition of “police officer”. I was a sheriff’s deputy for awhile in California.

    But Christopher, what are you proposing? That one throw the book at kids who commit “petty acts of misconduct” — the phrase used in the law? You don’t do that with adults. What you do is have a response that’s commensurate with the infraction. When someone goes 5 mph over the limit, you give them a warning. 15 mph over you give them a ticket. But when they purposefully plow through a farmer’s market, you take them down at gunpoint. Why is it such a horrible thought that kids should get the same treatment? Think about it, Christopher. You’re not; you’re having an emotional reaction. Read some of the stories here about zero tolerance. How do you want your kids to be treated? -rc

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  5. WOW! I can’t believe it took this long for someone to stand up and realize that what these administrators were doing was outrageous. The fact that it was Florida is doubly amazing.

    The term Zero Tolerance should be relegated to the history books, like other abominations, ie segregation, slavery, and temperance.

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  6. My son was suspended from school (7trh grade) for the last two days in the school year recently. His “crime” he wrote “bye bye terrorist” in large letters in a school mate’s year book. He was stupid to do so, and he shoud be punished. But why suspend him so he missed exams? Find some other way to punish him. He had to replace the yearbook at his expense (I agree), send him to detention, or even in school suspension (but let him take his exams). It was dumb and I told them so. But they are so stubborn (and dumb like him) once they make a dumb descision, they will not back down becuase it makes them look even more stupid (they think). What it makes them look is even more stupid since they add stubbornness to stupidity.

    BTW, they kid calls himself a terrorist after the videogame. It’s a coincidence that he is from the ethnic group assoiciater with terrorism. Even his mom asked for them to not be so hard on my son. Oh well. I wonder if the “victim” was white if they would react that way? I am doubtful. My son is black but I do not consider that to be related to his punishment.

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  7. One aspect of ZT HAS to be a reduction of respect for the law. If I shared my candy or showed off my gun charm, only to be met with the Nuclear Option, I’d certainly have some reservations about authority. Kids tend to be very aware of fairness, so we should reinforce the idea that the law and authority tend to be fair. (Notice, I said “tend to be”… 😉 )

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  8. Laws are written to define what is unacceptable and penalties to be applied when it happens. And they consider various levels of unacceptability. I know, I’m stating the obvious, but wait, there’s more.

    A lot of people think a law will eliminate a crime, or at least reduce it to near elimination. So they get frustrated when they hear of an incident that slipped through. What’s the reaction? Get tougher! Throw the book at ’em. Make an example of them. That’ll show everyone else. Bring a gun to school? Put ’em in prison. Talk about guns in school? Put ’em in prison. Watch TV shows at home that involve guns? Put ’em in prison. Think about guns? Put ’em in prison.

    Put everyone in prison, no matter how petty the offense. That’ll show ’em we’re tough on crime and the rest will think twice. Unfortunately, history (including our own in America) demonstrates that the tougher the oppressor, the more determination on the part of the oppressed to rise up and strike back, even if just in anger and retaliation.

    Okay, so I’m being somewhat overly dramatic. (Not much considering so-called ‘mandatory minimum sentences’ being passed these days.) But substitute ‘prison’ with ‘expulsion’ or ‘suspension’. And then school authority, who uses no thought or logic, wonders why the kids reject the authority.

    While kids are NOT just miniature adults, effective management of adults is very similar to effective management of children. It might be more effective for schools to learn how to manage than simply herd their charges.

    And isn’t that exactly what we pay them professional-level wages to do? If they’re not going to do their jobs professionally, then we shouldn’t be paying them those high wages. -rc

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  9. It is sadly surprising that someone has finally acted in a sensible manner. “Zero Tolerance” is the absence of judgement – the prohibition of thought – and as such, it is by definition stupid. I wish people acting against stupidity was less surprising – perhaps it will be less surprising in the future….

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  10. ZT only applies to some. New York City is paying 700 teachers who have been accused of offenses from sexual misconduct on up, their full salaries ($70K) to “sit in a room and do nothing”, because “it is extremely difficult to fire a tenured teacher”.

    Do the math.

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