Recently, Ohio high school student Jordan Wiser was jailed for thirteen days and expelled from his school for having a pocketknife in his vehicle. More specifically, it was a 3-inch seat-belt cutting implement in his EMT-vest that Wiser used during his trainee classes. With a dream to become a police officer, he’s hoping for a favorable disposition with his court hearing on April 1st. He still might have his law career dashed as he’s now also been kicked out of the Army’s Future Solider Training Program due to the negative attention.
The school expelled and called police on Wiser under its ‘zero tolerance’ rule. With a sudden spotlight on zero tolerance policy sliding more and more into the ridiculous—An 8 year old boy suspended for molding a Poptart into the shape of a gun and a 12 year old girl arrested for doodling “I love my friends” on her desk, to name a few—When do we say enough? Is it unreasonable to expect teachers and the administration to be more subjective when it comes to punishing students rather than cover the school with blanket rules?
Of course zero tolerance policies create a safety net for the school against legal action. For example if a child brought prescription medication for a recent issue but it was confiscated by a teacher, the student wouldn’t be able to take the medication and would be at risk. The student could go home and tell their parents and they decide to sue the school for causing their child pain. But thanks the zero tolerance policy regarding unregistered medication, the parents could pursue no legal action.
But if teachers become subjective whose standards should they use? In a lot of situations there could be people who agree and disagree with the teachers decision.
What if one teacher has a “boys will be boys” attitude and another prefers ‘zero tolerance’? Would one group of parents be upset if their student was punished while another group were not? More than likely.
Maybe that is the purpose of school administration and such matters should be escalated to those who are trained to address such issues with discretion and the subjectivity that accompanies every unique situation.
Zero tolerance policies remove all discretion from the administration and puts at risk any personnel who use common sense in a manner which violates these policies. If there is a problem with a teacher, it escalates to administrator, then superintendent, then commissioner. Zero tolerance is a check box solution which is present in most government and bureaucracy positions and as long as they check all the boxes their job is secure regardless of performance. Worst of all we are teaching our students that this is an acceptable way to handle problems rather than applying common sense.