I know why “Zero Tolerance” (A.K.A. “Zero Common Sense”) stories get to me.
They get to me because, too often, they involve kids. Kids who’ve usually done nothing more than act like a kid. Then, because of some “Zero Tolerance” policy, they’re asked to swallow a load of bovine manure they haven’t done anything to earn.
The latest example of the dark side of such policies comes to us from Virginia. There, according to news stories, a sixth grader named Adrionna Harris came to the aid of a classmate who was cutting his arm with a razor blade, convinced him not to do it, took the blade away, and threw it into the trash.
Note: This time, the “kid” who was about to get into trouble wasn’t acting like a kid. She was acting like someone wise beyond her years — unlike the “adults” who were about to enter the picture.
The next day, the young lady told a member of the school staff what had happened and, then, instead of being praised for doing a good thing, she received a 10-day suspension with a recommendation for expulsion.
News reports put it this way: “The only reason Adrionna got suspended was because she admitted what happened. The alleged weapon was thrown away, and it was her word alone that led to her suspension.”
When asked about the event, Adrionna stated: “I took the razor blade, and then I threw it away immediately … I didn’t carry it around the school … I didn’t use it against anyone … I threw it away.” She even said that if she had to do it all over again, she’d have done the same thing.
Good for her.
The best news is that when the story of what had transpired got out, the lawn fertilizer well and truly interacted with the air recirculating device.
The bottom line is that — thanks to the publicity and the public’s reaction — the school administrators took a deep breath, collected their missing wits, retracted the suspension, made no further mention of expulsion, and made sure that the young lady’s record was wiped clean.
To my mind, they then should have given her a commendation.
I don’t think any of us disagree with policies that forbid students from willfully bringing dangerous items to school. Such would include knives, guns, razors, drugs, or what have you. Too, it’s altogether reasonable to set down the punishments that would ensue should a student (or students) violate such rules.
That said, however, there should also be a large measure of well considered judgment exercised whenever a student or group of students run afoul of such rules. In other words, attention should be paid to the biblical passage pointing out that, regarding rules (laws), “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”
There’s a reason that people in most jobs and professions usually have to work their way up through the ranks. It’s done to gain experience. To gain judgment, and perspective. To acquire a sense of what works and — more importantly — what’s intrinsically right and wrong no matter what a book may say. In other words, we want those in charge to know not only how how to handle situations, but also to be able to apply a level of common sense to whatever’s in front of them.
Sadly, we seem to have more than a few individuals who’ve reached positions of authority without acquiring much of the above or, worse, who don’t have the backbone to look at a situation and say, “You know what, the rules don’t really apply here.”
In this most recent case, if the news media hadn’t gotten involved, the young lady would’ve been pilloried. Unfairly and unnecessarily.
Maybe she should’ve walked the razor directly to a teacher, but she did what she thought was best in the circumstances. She tossed it into the trash.
I can see a discussion with the principal wherein that point might’ve been made to her, but that same discussion would’ve ended with a smile and a well-deserved pat on the back.
Suspension and possible expulsion though?
Only if the thinking’s coming from a place where the sun doesn’t shine.
Larry Simoneaux lives in Edmonds. Send comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org