Letters

"These policies are a travesty." Readers respond to Whitney Joiner's article about zero tolerance.


Salon Staff
February 4, 2004 9:52PM (UTC)

[Read "One Strike and You're Out of School," by Whitney Joiner.]

The cases that I've read in your article about zero tolerance support my case -- the program isn't working. My friend Jim was expelled from our high school and from all public schools in California last year for writing a story. I think he was also discriminated against because of his appearance -- several people said that he looked like a "school shooter." Because of this, he wasn't given a chance to defend or explain himself. No one wants violence in schools, least of all me, a public high school student. But kids being severely punished for bringing Midol or a story to school is ridiculous.

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-- Whitney

It's sad schools have become draconian in their approach to miscreants. Still, I don't blame school officials for these god-awful zero-tolerance policies. Rightly or wrongly, our culture is so litigious, a lawsuit is virtually a bodily function. This is particularly true with anything regarding kids. When Mr. Wetherbee is forced to consider the possibility that droves of parents would call an ambulance chaser if their kid gets indigestion, what do people think cash-strapped school boards will do when dope or sharp objects are found?

The Reagan era's fetish for enforcing the unenforceable, i.e., drug laws, are the genesis of these policies, to be sure. But mass media, by which I mean everything from "The Book of Virtues" to "Bowling for Columbine," treats drugs and violence in such an infantilizing way that the effect of such on public consciousness vis-à-vis these two very serious issues, ensures school discipline policies become and will likely remain looking a lot like Dad's belt.

-- Douglas T. Presler

I can only hope your article and more like it will help people realize what a travesty zero-tolerance policies are. I graduated high school a year after Columbine, and through my younger sister heard of classmates being suspended for "making threats" (i.e., saying how much you dislike a person in your class). I know that if these policies had been in effect in my time there, I would have been suspended and possibly expelled. The anger and frustration that causes teenagers to lash out, make fun of, and cruelly treat their classmates is certainly an unfortunate thing. But a reactionary, authoritarian policy like zero tolerance is no solution.

-- Dan Abendschein

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When bureaucrats can hide behind the wall of policy, their humanity goes out the window. Rather than sue merely the school district, the parents of essentially innocent children should start suing the school principal and possibly the board of education (or whomever makes the decision to expel) as individuals. Sue them for discrimination, repression of freedom of speech (in a case like Adam LeBlanc) or some other tort -- let your attorney be creative -- but get them, personally, into court, on the record as much as possible so that their reputations are put at risk as much as the student's. Remember, according to federal statutes, expulsion is a judgment call and they are making the judgment.

Even if they are regularly exculpated, going through this process every time they unjustly expel a student will become burdensome and cause them to take stock of their actions; and for career educators, it will have an effect on their future employability. Enough of these actions will cause an administration to either investigate a case thoroughly or take more discretion in these matters. The key is to get their skin in the game.

-- Jared Hecker

The real problem with zero tolerance in the schools is that we are treating children as if they have the capacity to make adult judgments and decisions. They don't. They are kids and kids make poor choices and mistakes. While we should certainly be concerned about violence in schools, we might also pause and remember that the leading killer of kids is car accidents -- how about zero tolerance for parents who don't buckle up their kids?

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-- Kirsten Eyles

I was shocked after hearing the case of the girl in Georgia who wrote a fictional story depicting violence against a teacher and was suspended. As an artist and writer it saddens me greatly to see anyone's creativity suppressed. Instead of talking with the student and learning what her motivations were to write such a story, whether it was from anxiety or stress or just outright curiosity and imagination, the principal sent a terrible message to kids: Freedom of expression doesn't exist. And your freedom isn't important compared to the illusion of safety.

-- Pia Guerra

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Salon Staff

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