Zero Tolerance or Zero Intelligence? 

Zero Tolerance or Zero Intelligence? 
Posted by FoM on December 03, 1999 at 06:34:00 PT
By Rick Casey
Source: San Antonio Express
Here's the most important point: It's not just Alamo Heights. This is precisely why it was important to tell the Simonite story in some detail. It's hardly surprising that what many consider the city's premier school district isn't the only one dealing with students who get in trouble in ways that confuse zero tolerance with zero common sense.
Alamo Heights administrators and trustees acted out of the same pressures that we all feel.We're terrified of drugs and violence in schools. Our fear for our children  and of our children  translates into mandates to get tough. Legislators respond, and so do many school administrators.The story, if you missed the last three columns, was about a 14-year-old boy at Alamo Heights Junior High who bought a marijuana cigarette from a couple of other boys on campus. He confessed immediately when questioned about it, led the assistant principal to the hidden joint, and told who had sold it to him.The school official denied the boy's request to call his mother, and called police. The parents accepted the punishment of juvenile court, and said they would accept severe punishment from the district. But they could not accept the punishment that was given: more than a semester in Bexar County's and the district's "alternative centers," settings where strict behavior guidelines are enforced but where academic offerings are inferior to the classes their son had been taking.The school, the parents said, should hand out a serious punishment that did not deprive their son of his education. Most of the heavy response I've received to the story has been from people who are appalled at the district's actions. Others, however, could not hear Mr. Simonite or me say the issue was not one of leniency. Simonite, too, favors zero tolerance. He said, for example, he would have accepted a punishment that had his son cleaning toilets every Saturday for six months.But instead, his son had to spend time in an "alternative center."In some school districts, the "alternative centers" have become a lazy, one-size-fits-all form of punishment. A 14-year-old girl in one large school district was recently sentenced to the rest of this year at Bexar County's center for having a knife on campus. The girl, who is in several honors classes, has never been in trouble, her mother said. The knife was a novelty item on a key chain  a replica of a medieval knife bought at the Renaissance Fair. Its blade is 2 inches long, and there is no indication the girl had any harm in mind.The mother, who praises the staff at the center as being very good to the children, says the girl follows rigid rules every day but doesn't get much schooling. The science book is one she had three years ago in fifth grade. She has classes only in the morning, and has no homework.The main purpose of the alternative schools is two-fold. It provides a place for some children who may be a danger to others, a category that applies to neither this girl nor the Simonite boy. And it provides "behavior modification"  a rigid enforcement of rules and the use of positive reinforcement for kids who need structure and may have low self-esteem.But what is the behavior we want modified for children like the Simonite boy? He is punctual, a good student, respectful of his elders and fellow students, truthful to the point of leading the assistant principal to the marijuana when he could have gone scot-free had he lied.No one I've heard from who knows him  and that includes a lot of adults and students  thinks he would buy marijuana again. So the only behavior left to be modified is telling the truth. Being around those other kids might have wisened him up in that regard.The superintendent at one large school district said he checked after reading this series and learned that the typical punishment for first-time offenders who told the truth in his school district was a three-day suspension and seven days in a diversionary program. He said they were made aware that second offenses would be dealt with severely.I told him Mr. Simonite might not have thought that was enough punishment for his son.A small number of readers were offended that I was taking up for a rich and powerful white kid. The Simonites are not particularly powerful, and they are well within the middle class.I agree that if they are being treated this way, it's likely that many poorer and less sophisticated families are being treated even worse. What I find sad is that some people's notion of equal rights is for everyone to be oppressed equally.I could tell the Simonites' story in detail because they agreed to have it told. The law bars school officials from disclosing student disciplinary actions.This leads to a question raised by many readers. What happened to the boys who sold Nick Simonite the marijuana?The answer is, I don't know the details because of that law. Reportedly, they received more severe punishment than Nick, partly because they were the sellers and partly because they had been in trouble before.Published: December 2, 1999 1999 San Antonio Express-News 
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Post Comment

Name: Optional Password: 
Comment: [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]
Link URL: 
Link Title: