Accelify Blog

Do ‘Zero-Tolerance’ Policies Make Zero Sense? (US)

March 30, 2011

Most of us can probably remember hearing reports about a 6-year-old boy suspended from school for carrying a camping fork-spoon-knife combination tool.

Or about a teenager suspended from school for having a dinner knife inside a car in a school parking lot.

Time magazine’s Nancy Gibbs asks the question that has certainly been on my mind many times — and probably on the minds of most of us — if such zero tolerance policies make sense.

In the post-Columbine years of fear, she writes:

"The original rules against drugs and knives soon swelled, with schools that once called parents now calling the police. Suddenly middle schoolers were being suspended for puddle stomping and Alka-Seltzer possession or referred to a drug-awareness program for accepting a breath mint."

Her essay was spurred in part by the case of a boy, 15, in Fairfax County, Virginia. He was active in sports, in Scouts, the only child of retired military parents. He helped care for his mother, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease. And when he bought one capsule of a synthetic compound — not illegal — that acts like marijuana, he wound up suspended from school. He admitted he did something dumb and he begged to be allowed to return. School officials wouldn’t budge.

And then he killed himself.

Everyone wants to keep schools safe. But have some of these zero-tolerance policies gone too far? Can such rules be rewritten to allow common sense, or is it a slippery slope to allow one exception but not another?

If you have children, do you know what the school’s policy is concerning weapons, drugs or other contraband? Do you feel it’s fair or too stringent?