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A Local Supporter of Rotten School Policy

by on October 14, 2009

There’s no reason to accept zero-tolerance. Treating every object with an edge as a weapon displays an utter lack of common sense, which sadly and predictably explains why such policies are being enforced in many public school systems.

One young man suffering from such grade school campus lunacy is six-year-old Zachary Christie of Newark, Delaware. The New York Times explains why he faced banishment to reform school for planning or committing exactly zero harm:

Zachary’s offense? Taking a camping utensil that can serve as a knife, fork and spoon to school. He was so excited about recently joining the Cub Scouts that he wanted to use it at lunch. School officials concluded that he had violated their zero-tolerance policy on weapons, and Zachary was suspended and now faces 45 days in the district’s reform school.

Maybe they were punishing Zachary for being affiliated with a patriarchal, homophobic, paramilitary organization like Scouting. Nonetheless, America’s most prominent rag expresses doubts about the wholesale prohibition of any implement that could ever be considered dangerous at any moment:

But the question on the minds of residents here is: Why do school officials not have more discretion in such cases?

Said question is a particularly good one to ask, especially considering that we already send children to school armed with compasses, sharpened pencils, and correction fluid whose fumes could knock out a water buffalo. In that vein, a school official endorsed the rule while noting that they may change it:

“There is no parent who wants to get a phone call where they hear that their child no longer has two good seeing eyes because there was a scuffle and someone pulled out a knife,” said George Evans, the president of (Zachary’s) district’s school board. He defended the decision, but added that the board might adjust the rules when it comes to younger children like Zachary.

In fact, the board has since hastily voted to reduce punishments for young kids; they’ll now face a three-to-five day suspension. That’s better, if only because it slightly scales back the mindlessness. The original article points out that inflexible bans are wrong for so many reasons:

Critics contend that zero-tolerance policies like those in the Christina district have led to sharp increases in suspensions and expulsions, often putting children on the streets or in other places where their behavior only worsens, and that the policies undermine the ability of school officials to use common sense in handling minor infractions.

That said, the paper still found a way to use liberal guilt as evidence against the regulations:

Many studies indicate that African-Americans were several times more likely to be suspended or expelled than other students for the same offenses.

Of course, those suspensions could be taking place in urban schools where violence is a more immediate concern, which would minimize race as a factor in the differing rates. Nonetheless, conservatives and liberals both have reasons for opposing the mechanical rules. On top of that, libertarians and reasonable independents who form opinions on respective case’s merits are on board, too.

That’s almost everyone. So, where did the Times reporter find someone for the sake of balance who concurs with an autocratic policy that treats a Cub Scout utensil as a deadly weapon? How about at a legal school in Amherst?

Charles P. Ewing, a professor of law and psychology at the University at Buffalo Law School who has written about school safety issues, said he favored a strict zero-tolerance approach.

“There are still serious threats every day in schools,” Dr. Ewing said, adding that giving school officials discretion holds the potential for discrimination and requires the kind of threat assessments that only law enforcement is equipped to make.

Would the Doctor like to explain that theory to Zachary? In summary, he’s claiming there’s nothing more dangerous than permitting teachers or principals to think about what they’re doing.

It used to be that “giving school officials discretion” was the basis of the job description. But that’s apparently no longer applicable. Today, they’re merely androids programmed only to operate rubber stamps inked with either the word “SUSPENDED” or “EXPELLED.” On the plus side, we can probably reduce their pay considering their obvious lack of responsibility.

The professor fears judgment calls made by those who actually interact with students. By contrast, he thinks he’s better suited to issue blanket school guidelines from a North Campus office. Bad policy paired with arrogance leads to, well, the pronouncements gathered by the NYT reporter.

It’s not bad enough that this is the sort of opinion held by someone training the next generation of attorneys. Worse, taxpayers are sponsoring it. That’s why UB Law School tuition is a bargain compared to, for example, a nearby private option.

The next time the state budget process begins, certain politicians and regular citizens whose bleeding hearts resemble crime scenes will invariably argue that we must increase funding for public universities above the inflation rate. They’ll proclaim that any conservative who stands in opposition hates education, wants to deny opportunities to underprivileged young people, and is probably also a bigot for some reason.

But those on the right can advance their case merely by repeating the UB teacher’s remarks. They serve as Exhibit A in the case against subsidizing higher education, especially if they’re indicative in any way of UB law’s general instructional environment. Tax dollars shouldn’t be used to fill law students’ skulls with mush. Anyone who wants to learn from lecturers such as Ewing ought to pay their own way. There should be zero tolerance for any other approach; the professor will surely appreciate the principle behind such a guideline.

  1. wulfmankarl permalink

    Joe Pesci irreverently weighs in on the Zachary Christie farce on the Joey Panto Show

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