Michigan School Superintendent Suspended Under Own Zero Tolerance Policies

What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Turnabout is fair play. Being hoisted on one's own petard.

I've long been opposed to Zero Tolerance policies in schools when it comes to weapons and drugs. Not because I advocate weapons and drugs in schools. I'm totally against them. Let me be clear on that.

No, I'm against Zero Tolerance policies because they're often enforced without a modicum of common sense.

For example, if a student brings a weapon to school — say, a hunting knife — the weapon will be confiscated and the student will be suspended or expelled, as they should be. If a student brought a six-pack of beer or a bag of pot to school, they would be rightfully expelled.

But administrators often make boneheaded enforcement decisions that any other semi-competent person could see was completely lacking in common sense or sound judgment.

In the past, I have written about students who were suspended for a variety of knuckle-headed reasons. A first grader was suspended for having a knife, which he had gotten from the school cafeteria A high school baseball player was suspended for having a small replica bat in his car, even though the same car had a much more dangerous, full-size actual bat. A high school kid was suspended for disarming another kid who had a gun in school. And an 8-year-old Florida boy was once suspended in 2013 because he made a finger gun.

In all of these cases and more, school administrators grossly overreacted and used a one-size-fits-all punishment that doesn't differentiate between an actual gun and a little kid pointing his fingers, going "Pew! Pew! Pew!"

In an almost-textbook definition of irony, a Michigan school superintendent was suspended for five days without pay for violating the district's no-alcohol-on-school-property policy.

The incident actually happened on the first day of summer 2018, when several administrators gathered at district headquarters for a retirement brunch for two colleagues. Dearborn Heights School District 7 superintendent Jennifer Mast brought a bottle of champagne to the party and they toasted the two retirees.

"We drank literally, half a bottle of champagne and there were 12 adults present," Mast told the Detroit Free Press. "It was completely innocent."

The 12 adults polished off half the bottle between them.

You read that right. They didn't each drink half a bottle, they shared half a bottle. A bottle of champagne is 750 ml or 25 ounces, which means each person drank roughly one ounce.

So what happened to Mast?

Well, nothing for the entire year. And then two weeks ago, Mast was suspended for five days without pay by the Dearborn Heights Board of Education.

Mast was stunned, to say the least. This was certainly more than she expected. She thought there would be some kind of lighter punishment, similar to the kinds of punishments past Zero Tolerance victims have hoped for but never received.

"It's kind of a tough pill to swallow," Mast told WXYZ, Detroit's ABC affiliate. "We have progressive discipline in the school system and everybody follows progressive discipline, and progressive discipline doesn’t start with a five-day unpaid suspension."

Tell that to the kid with the finger guns.

I know, I know, Dearborn Heights had nothing to do with those other incidents, but it's hard not to paint school administrators with the same Zero Tolerance brush students have been painted with for years.

I hope maybe Mast and other school administrators around the country might finally start to see what Zero Tolerance has been like for all those kids who did something that violated the letter of the law, even when it didn't violate its spirit.

Or as Mast said in a statement: "Obviously, interpretation and the intended spirit of the policy is important to consider."

"I have a completely clean discipline record prior to this incident," she told the Detroit Free-Press. "I had hoped that the discipline I received would be reasonable. I never dreamed that I would be suspended for five days without pay. . . I never thought I’d have to miss all of the important things that happen at this time in the school year, like the graduation parade. . . honor roll celebrations and more."

Now, reread that last paragraph, but imagine it was a student saying those things.

Imagine being kicked out of school despite a clean discipline record. Imagine expecting adults to be reasonable and to realize they severely lacked empathy and common sense.

Jennifer Mast missed one week of her $125,000 salary, and thinks she was treated harshly. Plenty of students have had their lives completely altered because of a small incident that warranted nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

The state of Michigan has changed some of their Zero Tolerance rules, but I would hope Mast's own suspension would serve as a reminder that the traps they have set for students are the same traps they themselves could be caught in one day.

Because being hoisted by your own petard can be downright painful.

Photo credit: Jankuss (Pixabay.com, Creative Commons 0)

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