Thursday, November 08, 2007

I Can't Believe It's Not Deadly

I Can't Believe It's Not Deadly
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

What is it about zero tolerance that turns school administrators into zombies who enforce their rules with all the compassion and understanding of a German prison guard?

"Nein, you may not haff two potatoes, only one!"

Whenever a ne'er-do-well student breaks the no drugs/no weapons rules, they are usually -- and rightly so -- suspended or expelled from school. But "zero tolerance" means "absolutely no tolerance whatsoever, even at the risk of our common sense."

Fourteen-year-old Amber Dauge of Moncks Corner, South Carolina fell victim to this kind of clenched-up tunnel vision when she was expelled for bringing a knife to school. You'd think she brought a 12-inch survival knife that would make Rambo squeal with delight. But no, it was a butter knife.

According to the Charleston (South Carolina) Post and Courier, on October 3, Amber made toast for breakfast, and decided to walk to the bus while she ate, forgetting she still clutched the lethal weapon in a white-knuckled death grip. When she did realize it, she quickly hid the knife in her backpack, and stashed it in her locker later.

On October 12, Amber returned to her locker for the first time since she hid the knife in there. When she opened the locker, the knife fell out, so she hid it in her backpack. But she said she got scared and handed it to a classmate.

(We'll try not to dwell on the fact that she hadn't been to her locker in nine days.)

Unfortunately for her, some school officials saw Amber brandishing her weapon and suspended her for five days. She also faced an expulsion hearing.

On October 18, Amber attended the hearing with her mother and stepfather, Kristi and Steve Heinz, believing clearer heads would prevail if they just explained the situation. Dreadfully sorry and all that. Just a little misunderstanding. You know what it's like to be young, right?

But clearer heads were apparently smoking in the parking lot, because three hours later, Heinz received a phone call saying Amber had been expelled for the rest of the year.

For a butter knife.

Pam Bailey, spokeswoman for the Berkeley County schools told ABC News, "It's not what we would consider to be a traditional butter knife. Even though it's blunt on the end, it does have a serrated edge."

Look, unless it's a steak knife, you can't even cut steam with these things if you used both hands and got a running start. What do they expect her to do, start sawing away on her classmates?

I suppose if you really needed one, anything could be a weapon. Like a pair of scissors, a compass, a pencil, the forks they hand out in the cafeteria, or anything else sharp and stabby they might distribute at Goose Creek High School.

But rather than acknowledge there are deadlier weapons in fourth period geometry , they decided it was more important to keep their students safe from a butter spreader. If the issue at hand was high cholesterol, then I could see their point. But this knife didn't even have a point. The only point was at the top of the administrators' heads.

"Certainly, if it was my child, I would have a different perspective," Bailey told ABC News. "But if you're a school administrator, your perspective has to be broader. You have to consider the safety of the entire student population."

Translation: "Sure it's stupid, but we can't stop ourselves. It's like we're outside our bodies watching us do something completely inane."

But Amber wasn't going to be stopped. Six days later, she stormed the Berkeley County School Board meeting and held the board members hostage with a soup ladle and melon baller until they reinstated her.

Okay, that didn't happen. But the school board did vote unanimously to reinstate her, thus dope slapping the Goose Creek school administrators for being so short-sighted. It may not have hurt that there was a national outcry at the overreaction of Goose Creek administrators either.

"We know they have to have certain processes in place," Heinz told the Post and Courier. "But this just seemed harsh. To us, Amber's education was too important to waste on a technicality."

And that's what the Goose Creek administrators should have considered. This is when they need to look past the ends of their collective noses and realize they're messing with a girl's future. Do they really want to take a chance that one small forgetful mistake could wreck her entire future, or are they more concerned with their precious rules that must be followed blindly?

Because they're totally ignoring what the students use to prepare the food in home economics class.

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