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Zero-tolerance policy is an unfortunate necessity

May 07, 2002|BY BILL STERNER / Staff Correspondent

You've got to feel a little bit sorry for Washington County school officials as they work to find a balance between protecting students and allowing them to express themselves. We hope that as educators work on safeguarding pupils, their judgment is tempered by some common sense.

For now, the school system says that even though it's been a year since the last mass school shooting, it will continue with its "zero tolerance" policy in regards to threats, inappropriate activity or drug possession.

Boyd J. Michael III, the director of secondary education, told The Herald-Mail that zero tolerance does not mean that every offense will get a student kicked out of school. It does mean that every incident will be treated seriously, Michael said.

Asked about the case of an 11-year-old Mt. Lebanon girl suspended for three days because she drew pictures of two teachers with arrows through their heads, Michael said that if that had happened locally, similar action probably would have been taken.

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Sound too strict? What if such a child had gone home, opened up the family gun cabinet, then came to school the next day with revenge on her mind? What would parents and teachers say then about a system that hadn't dealt with her anger immediately?

But having said that, intent clearly needs to be taken into consideration. The young man in the Midwest who'd helped move some of his grandmother's belongings without noticing that a knife had fallen into the bed of his pick-up intended no harm. And the child who accidentally carries an aspirin to school in his shirt pocket isn't as culpable as the one who brings marijuana.

Those tempted to dismiss school system vigilance as overreaction probably remember a simpler time when Columbine-style student violence was unthinkable. It's a different time now, and while we regret that, regret cannot be an excuse for not dealing with today's reality.

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