Editorial: Zero tolerance for bad policy

Mass. incident highlights problems with one-size-fits-all
Oct. 17, 2013 @ 09:13 AM

One size does not fit all.

That phrase was perfectly illustrated in national news this week out of Massachusetts, where a Boston-area high school — following its own zero-tolerance policy — suspended a high school athlete for five games and pulled her team captainship during her senior volleyball season.

Her crime? 

Picking up a drunken friend from a party.

Seventeen-year-old Erin Cox, an honor student and captain on the volleyball team at North Andover High School, says she went to the party to pick up a friend who’d had too much to drink.

The friend had phoned her and Cox had gone to pick her up once she’d finished her shift at a local yogurt shop.

Police showed up moments after Cox arrived, and, despite not being charged with a crime, Cox was punished by the school. Even though a responding police officer refuted Cox’s story.

The problem, according to school policy, is that she was at a party where alcohol was present. That’s a violation of the school’s zero-tolerance policy.

“Friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” the old saying goes.

Apparently, if you’re a high school student, you should let friends fend for themselves.

It’s a problem common with zero-tolerance programs. 

How many times have we heard about a teenage girl suspended from school for taking Tylenol on campus or a country boy expelled, or even arrested, for accidentally carrying an unauthorized pocket knife.

Even more common of late has been a rash of strange suspensions and arrests over items in vehicles on school parking lots. 

Just last week a kid in Cobb County, Ga., was busted for knives in his truck. Fishing knives. In his tackle box.

“Some teachers and administrators favor zero tolerance policies because they remove difficult students from school,” the National Association of School Psychologists says. “Administrators perceive zero tolerance policies as fast-acting interventions that send a clear, consistent message that certain behaviors are not acceptable in the school.

“However, research indicates that, as implemented, zero tolerance policies are ineffective in the long run and are related to a number of negative consequences, including increased rates of school drop out and discriminatory application of school discipline practices.”

Zero-tolerance on some things is understandable — students shouldn’t have guns on campus, for example.  But even then, it’s just a matter of time before someone interprets that to include a cap-gun to get rid of a problem child. 


As is often the case, common sense is tossed out the window in the name of convenience.