I ran more “zero tolerance” stories last week, and I’m noticing a new trend: when I run the stories, I get mail from readers asking what they can do about this trend, since it obviously is a trend and not just an isolated happening. The new trend: many ask if I would please provide the mail/email address of the schools involved so you can give the administrators a piece of your mind.
I do not think that will help. Sure, it’s fun to abuse idiots, but the point is to get this kind of thing stopped. Besides: schools often have no choice: it’s often a law they are following, not just school policy. Don’t abuse the people who have no choice, abuse the people that made the law!
So what can you do? Write letters — not to the schools, but to the school boards, state education officials, state legislators, and your Congressional representatives. You will likely be rebuffed at first, but the more letters they get, the more they will understand that something needs to be done.
FirstGov has links to most U.S. government web sites if you need contact info. There’s a non-government site for finding contact information for state and local government agencies. Outside the U.S. (and indeed ZT is spreading outside the U.S.), look for government contact info here.
Why do I say you’ll probably be rebuffed? True has been pounding on this issue so long, I’m now not the only columnist ragging on it. Another is the Washington Post’s Marc Fisher. In his most recent ZT rant, he notes that two members of Virginia’s House of Delegates — a Republican and a Democrat, showing this is not a partisan issue — introduced bills to bring common sense to school discipline. Both were soundly defeated.
But There’s More: Fisher goes on to tell the story of a Virginia boy who took a knife away from a friend who was suicidal. The boy was suspended for four months for “possessing” the knife!
His parents sued to get his suspension overturned — and lost! They appealed, but Judge Clyde H. Hamilton of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled federal courts cannot overturn local zero tolerance policies, even though he said the kid was “the victim of good intentions run amuck” — which is exactly what ZT is.
He ruled that “The panic over school violence has caused school officials to jettison the common sense idea that a person’s punishment should fit his crime,” but concluded that such policy changes are the job of the legislature, not the courts. Fisher’s reaction to that idea? “God save us all.” I don’t doubt He would be denied jurisdiction too.
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