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Monday, October 1, 2007

Zero tolerance equals no brains

Despite what Greenville County school officials say, the school district for years has effectively operated with a "zero tolerance" policy for certain youthful mistakes. I've always thought "no brains" was a better description of such harsh measures than "zero tolerance."

At a time that school officials and community leaders fret and stew over this community's high drop-out rate, we have a school district that has a "one strike and you're out" approach to punishment for certain misdeeds. In our own school district, such policies have resulted in good kids being kicked out of school for silly mistakes such as using a plastic knife to cut Styrofoam for a project at school, using a steak knife during an after-school project to cut out cardboard badges and having a broken knife used to fix a stereo in a locked car.

Granted, allowing school officials who should be able to exercise discretion and plain common sense brings an element of human subjectivity into the punishment for certain foolish mistakes. But my heavens, if the criminal courts took this approach to punishment, we'd be executing people for holding up a bank or robbing a liquor store.

The good news is this: some trustees are showing some commendable courage, and now a trustee committee will review the district's policy regarding explusion. Trustee Megan Hickerson reportedly brought up this matter after discussions with community and board members. Good for her!

There are times that students should be expelled from school in a skinny minute. Think attacking another student with a weapon. Or getting caught with alcohol more than once. Or hitting a teacher.

But a young person shouldn't have his or her future ruined -- or at least significantly sidetracked -- because of some foolish mistake that does not reflect student's record and isn't consistent with that student's character.

The School Board owes it to this community, to parents, but especially to students, to come up with a policy that maintains order and safety, but does so in a way that doesn't destroy the lives of young people who slip up badly one time.

Posted by Beth Padgett on September 27, 2007 05:24 PM | Permalink

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