Friday, October 16, 2009

Zero Tolerance For Zero Tolerance

School district zero tolerance policies are in the news again this week after two boys (both Scouts, coincidentally) in two different school districts were suspended from school after bringing "dangerous weapons" onto school property. In one case, a 6-year-old Cub Scout got overly excited and brought his new camping utensil (an eating tool that combines a fork, knife, and spoon into one devise) to school to use on his lunch. In the other case, a 17-year-old Eagle Scout and U.S. Army soldier (I assume he's a Reservist or Guardsman, but I have yet to find a source that makes this clear) kept a survival kit that happened to include a 2-inch pocket knife locked in his car. In both cases, the boys received the maximum punishment available though, also in both cases, neither boy had anything resembling a disciplinary record before this incident.
In the case of 6-year-old Zachary Christie, the school board did bow to public pressure and lift the suspension, admitting that they needed to rewrite their policy to take into consideration the age and cognizant ability of the student. In the case of 17-year-old Matthew Whalen, however, things are much different and much more appalling.
Whalen did not have a knife on him which, by the way, was the lie told by an unnamed source that started this problem in the first place. Apparently, along with the absence of all common sense, Whalen doesn't get the right to confront his accuser either. The knife was locked in his car inside a survival kit, and it was two inches long. Are you kidding me? I can grab half-a-dozen things in the average car more dangerous than that knife without trying! And every one of them would be perfectly legal.
How many of you keep a toolbox in your car? How many of those toolboxes contain items that would be in violation of this ridiculous zero tolerance policy?
But wait. It gets better.
Despite the claim from Lansingburgh Central School District Superintendent George J. Goodwin, who added 15 days to Whalen's suspension without even bothering to show up for the disciplinary hearing, this school's policy doesn't even have a zero tolerance clause, and it's available online (you have to do a little digging - apparently they don't like having their policies too much in plain sight) for anyone to see for themselves. What was I just saying the other day about how easy it is to catch people in lies in the internet age? The school's policy actually says "may be subject to disciplinary action". May be. Might be. Could be. Nothing about will be. It is completely at the discretion of the man who couldn't be bothered to attend the hearing and who has lied to the press and public about the reason for the suspension. The same man, by the way, who has still refused to meet with Matthew Whalen or his family. I guess Whalen doesn't get to face his judge either.
This case is bad enough with just the above-mentioned details, but we're also talking about an honors student with a spotless record whose goal is to attend West Point. We're talking about a young man with a bright, promising future who is watching that future potentially get flushed away by a man who is making up his own policies and refusing to even discuss them. This high-handed, dictatorial behavior should make you angry. If you live in this district, you should be demanding an explanation and, when Goodwin cannot provide a satisfactory explanation (as I suspect he can't), you should be demanding his resignation!
We put these people in these offices to protect our children, not to destroy their futures based on arbitrary bias. A judge hearing a murder trial is required to hear and consider context. Do our children deserve less? Zero tolerance policies are sucker's games intended to keep lazy bureaucrats from actually having to make real world decisions. I say if you're too incompetent to make real world decisions then you shouldn't be holding such jobs in the first place. Get rid of these lazy bureaucrats and their self-serving rules and maybe we can actually start doing something to improve our education system.

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