Zero Tolerance ‘ two words used by the school system in the USA to take power back to the school system when it seems that children are undisciplined, unruly and in some cases violent. It was designed to combat the use of weapons and selling of drugs in American schools but there are some instances where the school is accused of heavy-handedness
1. Important Scientific Question ‘ Does it go ‘Bang’?
Kiera Wilmot felt the full force of school authorities for the curiosity of conducting a simple science experiment in her class. Putting toilet cleaner into cooking foil, she then placed the concoction into a large soft drinks bottle. The reaction caused a build-up of hydrogen that led to a small bang but this ‘hydrogen bomb’ was only powerful enough to shoot the bottle cap a short distance. Kiera was arrested and charged with the discharge of a deadly weapon on school grounds
2. Addictive Substances at School
Michael Pence ‘ a student with autism ‘ fell foul of his school authorities over a practical joke. Sealing up small packets of a white substance, he offered them to his friends as a ‘secret sugar rush formula’. The clue was in the statement ‘ he had packaged up white sugar and he never claimed it was anything but sugar. Despite making it clear that this was a practical joke, he was sent to a Juvenile Detention Centre for attempting to sell counterfeit controlled substances.
3. Arrested for a Terrible Joke
It seems that some schools will stretch the meaning of the word ‘bullying’ to include practically anything. A 17 year old student was arrested after changing the surname of a fellow student from ‘Mastain’ to something slightly ruder. The alleged victim, one Raigan Mastain, was not upset though she did think it was a terrible joke. The student responsible was charged with First Degree Property Damage and Harassment. The charges were eventually dropped in the best interests of everyone involved
4. Sexual Harassment
Some kids snap when they are persistently bullied. While some never resort to violence, for some there comes a moment when they simply see red and in a moment of anger they lash out. This is what happened to one American seven year old (a first grader) who kicked a bully in his private parts in revenge for a choking incident. Had the kick landed anywhere else, the matter might have been passed over for a stern warning to both participants. The Principal though saw things differently and the school began an official investigation of Sexual Harassment.
5. Assault with a Deadly’¦ Breakfast?
Taking a deadly weapon into school is one thing. Taking a toy weapon into school is quite another. But one seven year old boy was suspended from school for exploring abstract art and a little surrealism. Taking a bite out of a Pop Tart of all things, he decided to fashion the regular shaped snack into a handgun. Instead of being amused at his ingenuity and artistic acumen, the school suspended him
6. That’s Not a Knife!
There have been multiple reports of children suspended from school for bringing knives ‘ this is understandable as they can be a deadly weapon. Butter knives on the other hand are technically knives but can barely qualify as deadly. One seven year old girl in Attleboro was suspended from her school for taking a butter knife into school. It remained in her packed lunch as she intended to use it for purely innocuous reasons ‘ to cut fruit. The girl had braces and therefore could not bite into her apple. She received a one-day suspension
7. I’d Guess She Needed a Warrant
Some children struggle with their classes and rather than taking notes in their classes and lectures, would prefer to record the session so they can play it back over and over again when it comes to studying for homework or exams. One Asher Zaslaw confessed to struggling at Chemistry and thought it would be a good idea to record her lectures. The school took a different view: authorities saw this as a violation of illegal copying and the student was charged under Florida’s wiretap laws. The charges were later dropped
8. Backpacks Maketh the Gang
A crackdown on gang behaviour at one Utah school went terribly wrong and left the school facing charges. ACLU got involved when it seemed they singled out in the region of 40 students belonging to racial minority groups. One of the children had a graffiti-scrawled backpack and this brought him to the attention of staff at the school for possible gang membership. But the graffiti was not his design; it was the original design of an item bought in a supermarket. The boy had not modified it in any way after his parents bought him the backpack. Kaleb Winston was 14 at the time and had a criminal record simply for owning the wrong backpack
Wilson Reyes may very well have been a bully: he himself said that he pocketed $5 that had fallen out of another boy’s pocket. Witnesses though said that he struck the other boy and snatched the money from his hand. Regardless of whether the former or latter was true, it did not justify what happened next. The 7 year old was arrested, placed into handcuffs and taken to the local NYPD office where he was interrogated for 10 hours. The Public Advocate for New York later criticised the school system in the city for undue reliance on the Police for discipline.
10. When the School Turns Bully
Schools can become the bully and hide behind Zero Tolerance. One unnamed 13 year old boy from New Mexico suffered two non-cases in the space of a year. At one point he was called into the Principal’s Office on suspicion of selling marijuana. The only evidence they had was that the boy had been seen handling $200 which he maintained was to buy supplies for school after classes finished. The same boy later in the year was kicked out of a class for burping and sent to a Juvenile Detention Centre without being allowed to call his parents
Despite needing a clear and definite plan of maintaining discipline in schools, it seems that some authorities are getting it horribly wrong. Cracking down on discipline is one thingbut using heavy-handed tactics is quite another and they risk alienating the very people they are trying to help. Schools it seems are also unwilling to admit errors and that too will lead to kids feeling isolated and failed by the system