Zero tolerance in public schools

Lunch recess was always belligerent mayhem and was probably what put the jungle in jungle gyms.

I was a rather shy kid, keeping to myself and reading in some shady area where I could get some relative peace. Relaxed, there was nothing aggressive about my being, and I was rather surprised when a lanky kid from my class ran up and tried to stab me with the sharp side of a pencil. I reacted, not out of hate or spite or some pointed attempt to prove myself amongst my peers, but out of fear for my well-being; kick him in the shins with all the force a fourth grader could muster.

Following was punishment, to my surprise, for both of us. We were both suspended, though my penalty was to be twice that of his due to the fact that I was the only one that managed to strike the other. I was incredulous, asking why it was that I should be punished for defending myself. What the student supervisor said was to the effect that, “This school has a zero-tolerance policy on fighting, and it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are.”

Zero-tolerance policies have proliferated across the nation these last two decades, touted as the comprehensive solution for all illegal activity in public schools. They are worded in such a way that action against students is pursued regardless of circumstances, ignorance,and accidence. The argument behind it is that universal and unyielding policies are in place so as to prevent unfair or lax discipline by biased, bribed, or indifferent administrators, as well as to intimidate those who might be preparing to break a rule with the knowledge that they will inevitably be punished.

Ms. O’ Donell was called shortly after by the school’s office. She has said that, after being told that Briar should have fetched an adult , that, “I asked: ‘In the time it would have taken him to go get a teacher, could that kid’s throat have been slit?’ She said yes, but that’s beside the point. As far as the states go, Washington is progressive on these matters, making moves to innovate the infamous zero-tolerance policies, but still more must be done.