Sunday, May 20, 2007

Readers Digest comments on Zero Tolerance

An article in the May 2007 Readers Digest discusses some of the more heinous applications of Zero Tolerance policy, including one that's eerily parallel to the story of Elliot Voge I posted on earlier this year:

On a chilly December morning in Houston, Eddie Evans's 12-year-old son hurried out the door in shirt sleeves on his way to the bus stop. Feeling the cold, he ducked back into his house to quickly grab a jacket. It wasn't until he'd gotten inside the school building that he remembered his three-inch pocketknife was still in his coat. Why would a sixth-grader carry a knife? Because he was a Boy Scout and he'd brought it to his last Scout meeting.

After asking a friend what he should do, the boy decided to keep quiet and hide the knife in his locker until the end of the day. But his friend mentioned the knife to a teacher, and school officials called the police. That afternoon, cops arrested the Evans child and took him to a juvenile detention center. "From that point on, my family's life was flipped on its head," the boy's father says.

The boy was suspended from school for 45 days and enrolled in an alternative school for juvenile offenders. Evans says the place was like a boot camp, where his son -- a good student, a youth leader in his church and a First Class Boy Scout -- was so miserable he talked about suicide.

It goes on to list a few recent incidents I've missed. "According to a report issued by the Justice Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.:
  • A 17-year-old in Richmond, Illinois, shot a paper clip with a rubber band, missing his target but hitting a cafeteria worker instead. He was expelled.

  • A 12-year-old in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, diagnosed with a hyperactivity disorder, told others in a lunch line not to eat all the potatoes, or "I'm going to get you."
    Turned in by the lunch monitor, he was referred by the principal to the police, who charged the boy with making "terroristic threats." The kid spent several weeks in a juvenile detention center.

  • A 13-year-old in Denton County, Texas, was assigned in class to write a "scary" Halloween story. He concocted one that involved shooting up a school, which got him a visit from police -- and six days in jail before the courts confirmed that no crime had been committed.
The Evans case ended with the boy's parent getting involved in local and state politics to prevent just these sorts of abuses. He's even set up a website, Texas Zero Tolerance, to educate and activate parents on the issue. I'll be keeping a close eye on them and commenting on interesting stories I find.


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