Red Apple Mom

January 23, 2011

Zero Tolerance for Jeff Spicolli & Ferris Beuller?

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February 20, 2011:  I have updated this blog entry to include an article from the Washington Post that provides details about the situation that may have led to this young man’s tragic suicide.  The link to today’s article is at the bottom of this blog post.

The Washington Post ran a very sad story today about a high school student suicide – with many in the community asking if their school district’s “Zero Tolerance” policy for even non-criminal offenses is to blame.

Why do schools have “Zero Tolerance” policies anyway?  Are such policies fair and warranted?  Can’t we just have “Low Tolerance” policies  for non-criminal infractions that give administrators, kids and lawyers some room to find better solutions that keep a student in their home base school and provide an opportunity for the child to learn from their mistake?  Does every offense have to be worthy of school expulsion?

I remember when my brother was in high school in the 1970’s.  The school environment was very much like the film “Dazed and Confused” which depicted high school life in 1976.  If “Zero Tolerance” policies were in existence then, the student expulsion rate would have been through the roof!  I wonder how many of those graduates from the 70’s are now running our schools.  Why were “low tolerance” policies for non-criminal offenses okay then but not today?

Even in the 80’s when Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” drug campaign was the major focus at every American high school, kids could still screw-up without the threat of expulsion.  Remember, it was also the era of “Fast Times At Ridgemont High.”  My middle-class, suburban  high school had plenty of “Jeff Spicolli” characters smoking it up in the bathrooms and courtyards.  Back then, we were even allowed to bring cough drops to school and even Midol – yes Midol and Tylenol.  And here comes the shocker –  we even shared our Midol and Tylenol.  Guess what?  We all survived.  We learned from the Spicolli’s at our school and from the Ferris Beuller-type characters who frequently skipped class.  Through observation of these in-house “characters,” other students learned what to avoid.  We also learned how to take some risk, have fun and enjoy being teenagers.

‘The Breakfast Club”, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and ‘Dazed and Confused” were all major motion picture successes because they reflected reality.  This stuff happened in our schools in the 70’s and 80’s and they are still happening today.  Kids make stupid choices – sometimes really stupid choices.  But kids are stupid sometimes because – not surprisingly – they are still kids.  Can’t we give them some latitude when offenses are not criminal?  Film director John Hughes celebrated teenage immaturity and stupidity.  He also showed, with great humor, that these same stupid kids were capable of learning from their screw-ups and maturing in the process.  Can’t schools give kids the same latitude today?

At the very least, isn’t it time to have a serious review and public dialogue about “Zero Tolerance” policies?  None of us want our kids experimenting with drugs or alcohol but teen surveys demonstrate that they are likely to do so at some point.  Punishments for such offenses shouldn’t make the situation even worse.  These can be teachable moments if the offense wasn’t criminal.

If you are interested in advocating for this issue in your school district, bring it up to your school board.  Research what type of policies neighboring school districts and neighboring colleges and universities have implemented.  Here are two resources which offer guidance on what other parents are doing about disciplinary policies in the schools:,

1 Comment

  1. Students aren’t cookies pressed out of the cutter – they don’t all come out the same. We don’t have the option of tossing out the less than perfect ones. Reflecting that reality, we would be tossing the whole batch.
    The lack of data is the center of this story. The school board hides behind any attempt of reasonable stakeholders to determine what is actually happening in the public school system.
    Regardless of where people stand on the level of tolerance and which infractions deserve which outcomes, without transparency and accountability in the actions by those supposedly elected to represent the stakeholders, there is no validity in those actions.
    The beholden nature of the Fairfax County School Board to cling to uniformity in its heavy-handedness over the the individual nature that a particular situation brings puts the primacy on the Board’s action over the concern of what happens to children.
    That is the essence of arrogance. And now it has cost more than dollars, disenfranchisement or doubts. The arrogance has been paid in despair and the life of a child.

    Michelle Rhee has it right – “Students First”. We look forward to the Fairfax County School Board figuring that out – soon.

    Comment by momlikeu — January 23, 2011 @ 11:38 pm

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