My Son’s Enormous Mistake….Zero Tolerence is a Trainwreck with Lipstick

sandor dancinThree weekes before the end of Sandor’s sixth grade year the world imploded. Alex went to his school to pick him up a little early. Sandor was already in the office, in the principal’s office.

When he emerged from the office he was sobbing and collapsed into his father’s hug.

Before I tell you what happend let me tell you a little about my son sandor. He’s an A B honor roll student, he’s in Beta Club and the Gifted and Talented program. He’s great trumpet player in the sixth grade band. At ome he plays the drums and guitar too. In six years he’s never been called into the principal’s office. I’m spoiled because I’ve become accustomed to teachers writing things like “Sandor is such a smart boy and a pleasure to have in class. He has great manners.” Sandor has been training in Taekwondo since he was three and is a legitimate second degree black belt. And he’s really really goofy and silly. You get the idea…he’s a really good kid.

Here’s what happened that day in school. A sixth grade girl who was a very good friend of his started bragging first thing that morning that she had some pot. She told Sandor she got it from a kid who had a reputation of being a troublemaker. Sandor did not tell anyone.

A few hours latter, during recess or on the way to PE, sandor and the girl were walking together. She said something like, “I really do have pot, look.” He stuck out his hand and she put a tiny pit of pot in his palm.  He didn’t believe it was actually marijuana and threw it on the ground.

After that the girl did basically the same thing to two other boys with tiny amounts of her pot. They are both great kids.

The girl who was friends with our “pot girl” heard this entire story and told a teacher.

As a result Sandor, the two other boys, the pot girl and the bad kid who gave her the pot were called into the principals office.  When questioned the boys confessed immediately, told the principals what they already knew and wrote statements confessing.

I learned latter all this was confirmedby the school’s video cameras.

Sandor and all the other kids were suspended tor two weeks.  They would not be allowed to make up any of their missed school work.

That was bad, really bad. Then, two days latter we received a letter from the school.  Sandor had been recommended for expulsion for “drug possession.”

I pulled out our student hand book, something I signed without even reading a single page at the beginning of the year. It was all murky and convoluted but the school had the right to expel my son for what they deemed as ‘drug possession.”

Two weeks later after countless conversations with the administration, tears, anger, frustration, lawyers and letters I was able to negotiate a deal with the school principals that I felt was fair and the school could live with. And I got to make a little speech to the School Board where I basically said….”Is this the kid you really want to kick out? When I first heard she handed him pot and he threw it on the ground I was relieved and proud.  If I had to pick three responses, throwing it on the ground would be in the top three. But you want to expel him.”

I’ll tell you what I told them that evening.  Zero Tolerance for drugs on school campuses sounds great…. in theory and on paper.  It’ll scare the kids, make them all realize the institution is serious. No drugs will be tolerated….ever.

All drugs, in any amount, any form, any circumstances are unacceptable and all students will be expelled. (This part is important.) And a student’s past performance, gpa, attitude do not matter. No matter how much good stuff you’ve done in six years, how many teachers and students you’ve tried to help, none of that matters….ever.  Every single student will be recommended for expulsion. Including Sandor.

Thank God, thank you Lord, our judicial system doesn’t follow that thought process. Judges judge and measure each defendant seprately.  Have they got a questionalbe past, are they repeat offenders, are they sorry, did they try to get away from the evil or did they encourage it? A judge weighs all these things then makes a decision. The world and hisor her decisions are not black and white, they are all different shades of gray.

Here’s what Sandor and I decided to learn from all this. Little mistakes can turn into monumental problems.  Sandor’s mistake was sticking his hand out and letting the girl put the pot in his hand.  That was a mistake. He should not have done that.  And because he made a bad decision lots and lots of really bad thing happend.  In the end, it’s his fault. He was tested and failed. Next time I think he’ll do better.  That’s what we learned from this story.

What I actually learned is  Zero Tolerance is a great “idea” but terribly flawed and an abysmal failure. thankfully American courts and judges don’t operate by the same standards. If they did a kid with a joint and a dude with a kilo of cocaine would get the same ten years. That kind of sounds like the ISIS style of justice. But most judges are wise and realize stealing an apple is not the same as robbing a bank.  Our school administrators need to take a lesson from our court systems. They need to be wise and thoughtful.

A Zero Tolerance system is thoughtless and lazy, like spanking a child instead of thinking of a creative punishment that’s truly effective. All crimes and all kids are not the same. And that’s not how we should raise our children or what we should be teaching them. Period.  The schools and decision makers thought they were doing a good thing but it’s bad and short sighted. Good behavious is not rewarded and bad behaviour is all the same.

By the way, after all was said and done, the pot was tested. It wasn’t actually pot. It was something like Bermuda grass. And all tthe kids, the ones who sold it, the ones who gave it to her friends and the ones who threw it on the ground are all back in school, having received the EXACT same punishment.

What do you think.