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"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
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Author:  Larry Simoneaux
Bio: Larry Simoneaux
Date:  April 9, 2006
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Topic category:  Other/General

Zero Tolerance equals Zero Judgment.

Score one for common sense. The kid gets to stay in school. But his parents are out $2500 – the cost for preparing to defend him – and his grades have suffered while he was suspended.

Let’s rewind here.

About a month ago in a place called Warren Township, Indiana, Elliot Voge - an eighth grader - was suspended by the principal of his school who also recommended that he be expelled.

Here’s the "zero-tolerance" scenario:

According to all reports, Elliot Voge is a good student who’s never had a disciplinary action taken against him. He has, in fact, been recommended for advanced placement in several courses when he enters high school next year.

On the day before the incident, he’d been home using a Swiss army knife to do some whittling with his younger brother.

When they were finished, Elliot put the knife in his pocket and, as boys will do (ask any mother who washes eighth-grade boys’ clothes), he promptly forgot about it. The next morning, his mother dropped him off at school and pulled away.

As Elliot walked toward the building, he put his hands in his pockets and remembered the knife.

Knowing the school’s zero tolerance policy, he told a friend that he was going to turn the knife in. His friend argued that he should just say nothing and try to get through the day.

Immediately upon entering the building Elliot walked to the office, told the school treasurer what had happened, and handed over the knife.

At which point, the whole thing should’ve officially ended. Period. End of story.

Enter the principal who apparently has been doing way too many sit-ups under very low and very hard coffee tables. He suspended Elliot for 10 days and recommended him for expulsion.

I don’t even know where to begin.

In an age where parents are praying that their kids will stick it out in school, make good decisions, study hard, and stay out of trouble, we have a kid who does just that. He’s no disciplinary problem. He’s got good grades. He’s been recommended for advanced placement. Hell, he even whittles with his kid brother.

In an age where teachers are praying for kids who behave respectfully, do their homework, and give them no trouble in class, we have a kid who fits the bill.

In an age where society is praying that kids will learn to trust those in authority, stay within bounds, and understand that the best course of action is to own up to mistakes, we have a kid who does just that.

So, in response to behaving precisely like every sane adult prays every kid would behave, what action should be taken?

As a parent, wouldn’t you breathe a sigh of relief that this young man had obviously listened to all of the lessons you’d tried to instill in him? Wouldn’t you be happy that – even in the face of a peer pressure – he stood his ground, put his faith in what he’d been taught, and behaved in a manner that many wouldn’t have?

As a teacher, wouldn’t you have stood this young man up at an assembly and pointed to his behavior as a model for others to emulate?

As a principal, wouldn’t you have clapped him on the shoulders, shook his hand, and said: "Good job, Elliot. You did the right thing. I’ll square this away with the powers that be and see that, if anything at all comes from this, it’ll be a pat on the back."

As a neighbor or friend of the family, wouldn’t you have been proud to point to him and say "At least we’ve got one who has his head screwed on straight."

In fact, as a human being with any amount of common sense at all, what is the one thing you would absolutely not have done under any circumstances in this situation?

If you said you’d never punish the kid, we’re on the same page.

If you said you’d suspend him and recommend expulsion, you might want to get out from under that coffee table too.

Fortunately, cooler heads have prevailed (helped, probably, by the hurricane of outrage this one generated) and all charges have been dropped. Elliot will not be expelled and he’ll be given the chance to improve the grades that suffered while he was suspended.

Unfortunately, Elliot’s learned a hard lesson. Namely, that there are adults in positions of authority who tend think with a portion of their anatomy more commonly associated with sitting.

Good grief.

Can someone tell me when "zero tolerance" ever came to mean "zero judgment?"

Larry Simoneaux

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Biography - Larry Simoneaux

Larry Simoneaux is a regular columnist for The Everett Herald in Washington state. He is a retired ship driver for the US Navy and NOAA.

Read other commentaries by Larry Simoneaux.

Copyright © 2006 by Larry Simoneaux
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