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The Zero-Intelligence Policy


If there is one thing for which I have no tolerance, it is zero tolerance.

My nephew was recently suspended from school under a strict zero-tolerance policy toward fighting. He was standing in line when a boy behind him socked him in the back of the head. The teacher saw the incident, and, well, you know what they say, it takes two to have a fight, even if one of them is just standing there getting punched in the cranium.

Perhaps zero tolerance will soon become official policy at police precincts.

You: I was just beaten and robbed!

Police Officer: That's horrible. You're under arrest.

You: You've got to be kidding me.

Police Officer: Consider yourself lucky. If you'd been murdered, you'd be going to prison for life.

I suppose I'm implying that zero tolerance is just another way of saying zero sense. So I wasn't surprised when the U.S. Supreme Court took up a case on April 21 of a 13-year-old girl who was strip-searched in school because a friend of hers alleged that the girl had an ibuprofen tablet.

Yes, ibuprofen, the over-the-counter painkiller.

Nephew: Hey, I have a headache from getting punched in the head, may I have an ibuprofen tablet?

School Nurse: Yes, but first you'll have to strip naked. Here, let me turn on some music.

As if that weren't crazy enough, some schools have even banned the use of sunscreen — which could turn out to be sort of unfortunate, if the same school requires you to walk around nude so you won't have any place to hide non-prescription medication. (I suppose you could hide it by swallowing it — the zero-tolerance policy encourages you to take drugs to avoid being caught holding drugs.)

Ironically, ibuprofen is sometimes recommended as a treatment for sunburn.

I'm trying to understand the school's zero logic on this. Sunscreen is not a drug, but it can help prevent skin damage, so it is kind of like a drug, just like being attacked is kind of like getting in a fight. We as a society cannot afford to have our children running around avoiding skin damage, right?

Clothing also blocks skin damage, by the way, so that's another good reason to conduct a strip search.

You can be suspended if the strip search reveals that you were wearing clothing.

Done correctly, zero-tolerance policies can rid schools of their most pernicious problem: students.

The case went to the Supreme Court because a lower court agreed with the girl and her parents that the school had demonstrated zero tolerance toward common sense. The school, apparently shocked that anyone would find fault with their entirely reasonable policy that anyone accused of having a headache pill should be forced to strip naked in the nurse's office, appealed all the way up to the highest court in the land, which probably took the case because the judges simply had to hear with their own ears how the school could possibly justify its actions.

Chief Justice: You made a young girl strip because it was rumored she might be holding something that resembles an illegal substance, and you feel so strongly that this action makes sense that you have appealed all the way to the Supreme Court?

Lawyer for the school: Your honor, we zero-tolerate that question. Take off your clothes.

I also found a story online about a Manassas, Va., student who was suspended for giving a friend a breath mint — breath mints, you see, resemble aspirins, and aspirin is banned under zero tolerance toward anything resembling a controlled substance. I assume that toothpaste is banned, as well, because it resembles sunscreen.

Apparently, the students in Manassas walk around all day with bad breath.

The Supreme Court will rule on the narrow issue of whether the school overstepped its authority when it forced a 13-year-old girl to strip naked and will not tackle the larger issue of what zero-tolerance policies teach our children, which is that the people who thought up these rules are idiots.

Meanwhile, my nephew was allowed to return to school after three days and a stern admonition not to let his head hit anyone's fist anymore.

I wonder if the experience has taught him tolerance.

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2 Comments | Post Comment
First off, I LOVE your column!! I can't wait to read it every Sunday. I loved THIS column and want to know what is wrong with people? Do they smoke weed in the teachers lounge, while eating cupcakes and laughing about what STUPID idiotic thing they can get away with?? I can always laugh at your columns, but not today! Can you print the SCHOOL name in your column?? Can you talk your family into taking this to court?? Can they at least SUE the family who hit your nephew in the head?? That would be fun, huh?? I am sure they could not put any ice on your nephews head as water is a chemical (H2O I learned from my public school training) and as we all know, chemicals are what DRUGS are made up of! I have always thought that ZERO tolerance was stupid. That is why we have judges in our courts, to decide what really happened. Zero tolerance is just another name for "I am too lazy to find out what happened, and I have no common sense anyway so I can get rid of anyone I want." This, as well at the other stories you sited, are just too much. I am usually ALL FOR the school. BUT, I have ZERO tolerance for adult idiots! This was like the Nun who pinched my brother's cheek in 1962, because he and a friend were pushing each other while in line. She left a mark. My 92 pound mother, who never said a peep, went to the school and YELLED at the NUN, in front of the whole class!! The Nun made the mistake of leaving a mark, AND messing with Mom's favorite! (another column)
Comment: #1
Posted by: Katie
Sun May 31, 2009 7:14 AM
Love this column! Can't imagine why people create these stupid policies!

I once worked for an elementary school that attempted a zero-tolerance policy for weapons -- real or toys, anywhere on the grounds or at any sponsored event, no exceptions. Now, in broad theory, not having weapons at school is a good idea: guns and knives generally shouldn't be brought to school.

Oh, wait, don't we have a cooking program? They use knives in that class -- big ones.

And is it *really* a big deal if a teacher keeps a can of pepper spray locked in her car? That, too, was banned: no weapons anywhere on the premises, ever.

Do you really want to suspend a kid for *accidentally* bringing a neon-colored water pistol to school? So you've got a kid who put a toy in his backpack on his way home from a playdate, and forgot to take it out, so it ends up at school, where a smart kid would leave it in his backpack (because you're not supposed to bring toys to school in general) and quietly take it home. But the policy, as proposed, said that the correct response to this obviously harmless mistake is to call the police, have the kid arrested, and then not let him come back to school for three days! For forgetting about something that could not possibly be mistaken for a real weapon, even if you were half-blind?!

Speaking of police, the proposed policy contained no exceptions for police! Supposedly, if the school called the local police department, then the officers weren't allowed to show up unless they left all their weapons off-campus -- remember, it's not good enough to just lock them up in your vehicle! -- so we couldn't have actually had a police response, even to a real threat. This, by the way, was contrary to state law.

I killed the zero-intelligence proposal. The weapons policy is now more than one page long, provides for reasonable limits, and demands common sense.

Comment: #2
Posted by: once
Mon Jun 8, 2009 2:33 PM
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