Seventeen year old Chaz Seale could have been any of us. In a hurry to get out the door he accidentally grabbed a beer instead of a can of soda out of the fridge and put it in his lunchbox. Upon arriving at school, he realized his mistake and told his teacher what happened.
Now he faces a three-day suspension and one month at a disciplinary alternative school. He originally faced two months, but his mom got the sentence reduced.
When a friend of mine first told me about this I said I could not believe it. She emailed me proof.
I don’t know why I didn’t believe it, since I wrote a book that includes a whole chapter about this kind of zero-tolerance harshness. Doing the research for this chapter was eye opening and unsettling. But I guess I believed that since the book came out last August, harsh zero-tolerance policies had improved—overreaching discipline reconsidered.
The beer incident shows I was wrong. Many school districts are still training-up criminals.
Chaz didn’t get caught drinking beer, or giving it to his friend. He didn’t even shake the can and spray the beer at the principal when he was accused of bringing the beer to school intentionally (my thought entirely).
Even if Chaz had done any of the above, it would have been more important to find out why he’d had the beer. Was alcohol a problem? Did a friend have a problem? Did he spray the principal with beer because he was angry? Or was he just impulsive? Getting to the heart of troubling behavior should be a part of schooling, not an automatic send off to boot camp.
But Chaz did nothing wrong! He made a mistake that could have happened to anyone! More importantly, Chaz had no intent to create trouble or break any rule. He is a shy kid. He wants to play football. Once he told the teacher about his slip-up it should have been forgotten.
In an alternative, normal universe, this would have been fodder for laughter in the teacher’s lounge. But instead, it’s serious business. And Chaz’s mom might want to double check her child’s records later, because such documentation of offenses (even when they are trumped-up) tend to live on…not in a good way.
Legal Analyst Jonathan Turley discusses his concern, not only about this incident, or about the false zero tolerance policies which he has written about before, but how unjustified these policies have become. Turley states:
What bothers me most about these rules is how they make a mockery out of the legal process. Blind and often senseless acts (that harm children) are defended under a false veneer of legality. Justice is supposed to be blind only in removing favoritism not blind to the merits or mitigating circumstances of cases. School administrators seem to relish the notion of rules that do not require judgment or accountability — just strict liability with no defense or deliberation.
One thing is for certain. Until school policies change, parents and students must be vigilant. If you have a child in school, and even if your child never gets in trouble, still, pay attention to the Disciplinary Code Book sent home in the beginning of the school year. Read the book carefully and pay attention to the fine print. Share the rules with your student and help them to understand that, even if they think a silly prank is fine, it might get them into really serious hot water.
It is also important to know, that in many schools, students are not given the same rights or treated like ordinary citizens would be treated outside of school. It is unfortunate but a reality. Here is a comparison. Probe around to find out if this is the protocol your child’s school follows.
- There may be no difference between a criminal or delinquent act.
- The school may obtain an arrest warrant without informing students of their rights.
- Students might not be advised that their statements (written or verbal) can be used against them in court.
- Students might be interrogated without a parent present.
- The school might still file criminal charges even if the victim doesn’t want charges filed, or if the parent of the victim along with the victim don’t want to prosecute.
- Without a subpoena, parents cannot learn what was said about their child by witnesses.
This kind of immovable lawmaking in regard to student behavior in schools is frightening for many reasons. As an educator, here are a few that really worry me:
- If you expect the worst out of students you might get it—self-fulfilling prophesy.
- Students with real mental health problems could be pushed over the edge.
- People begin to accept a school police-state as normal.
Disciplinary situations that arise should include careful scrutiny by the adults in the room. Common sense should rule over unrealistic inflexibility. Ideally, students might be included as a part of a behavior board for judging incidences.
But this country continues to have schools that have educators and law enforcement that demonstrate punishing, damaging rules that destroy a child’s record when it comes to discipline. There’s a long list of silly misbehaviors or innocent mistakes we have heard about in the past. Chaz’s beer incident can now be added to that list.