Zero Tolerance For Zero Tolerance Policies

One thing I've always believed is that “zero tolerance” policies in schools are a crutch, used by those administrators too lazy or too scared to make a judgment call when some kind incident takes place in the school. Far too often such policies backfire, becoming yet another example of the Law of Unintended Consequences. Lawsuits are filed and school officials end up looking like jerks.

Probably one of the more infamous zero tolerance incidents involved a student suspended from school because he had a pen with the word “Glock” silk-screened on its side.

The school policy about guns was loosely interpreted by the school administrators to include even the word on a pen.

Now schools are taking zero tolerance policies to the point of farce by implementing “no touching” policies in an effort to curb incidents involving physical bullying or displays of affection or any of that other icky stuff. In many cases things as simple as hugs, hand shakes, or high-fives are banned. As one 13-year old student at a middle school in Fairfax County, Virginia found out, even giving his girlfriend a hug could get him suspended.

Middle school student Hal Beaulieu hopped up from his lunch table one day a few months ago, sat next to his girlfriend and slipped his arm around her shoulder. That landed him a trip to the school office.

Among his crimes: hugging.

All touching -- not only fighting or inappropriate touching -- is against the rules at Kilmer Middle School in Vienna. Hand-holding, handshakes and high-fives? Banned. The rule has been conveyed to students this way: "NO PHYSICAL CONTACT!!!!!"

How far will schools take such policies? If this keeps up the school handbooks in the future will be the size of the Manhattan phone book in order to list everything that's banned and the terms of punishment/suspension for violating them.

As more of these policies come into existence, schools will end up being run more like prisons rather than institutions of learning. What is this going to teach our children?

If schools want to maintain discipline and control of the students, then perhaps they should borrow a page from prisons and put each and every student in solitary, with each cell having a desk, computer, camera, toilet and sink. Lunches will be delivered to each cell by guards..uh...school employees. That way there will be little possibility of any student doing anything against school policies. (Sounds ridiculous, right? That's probably why some school district somewhere will do exactly that.)

Zero tolerance policies always have a way of becoming an embarrassment to the schools implementing them. Students end up getting caught up in them, usually with consequences that go far beyond the original offense. The punishment usually doesn't fit the “crime”.

How stupid is that?

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