Chaz Seale, 17, would normally be considered a model student. In running out of his home one morning, he grabbed what he thought was a can of soda but realized at lunch that he had grabbed a can of beer. He turned it over to his teacher who reported it to the principal of Livingston High School. According to news reports, the principal then suspended Seale under another blind and senseless application of zero tolerance rules.
In an all-too-familiar scene for those of us with kids in elementary, middle, and high schools, Seale was running late according to his mother. Such things happen. Last football season, we were watching the Bears (aka God’s Team) when my youngest son Aidan asked if he could have a root beer. I said yes and he then came in to tell me that the root beer tasted weird. It was a real beer. It happens. The Seale case reminds me of the arrest of a father who mistakenly bought his son a hard lemonade instead of a regular lemonade at a baseball game.
Principal Bakewell Barron suspended Chaz for three days and required him to attend an alternative school for two months — for an act of self-reporting. The school district is standing by the decision and said that Barron acted entirely appropriately under the governing rules of the school. The district released a statement that “The principal of Livingston High School followed appropriate LISD administrative procedures and protocol. LISD encourages any parent who is in disagreement with an administrative decision to seek relief through the appellate process as provided through Livingston ISD policies. Livingston ISD policies may be accessed through the Livingston ISD Homepage.”
I briefly tried to find those policies but could not locate them. Where ever and whatever they are, it would be entirely illogical to punish an act of self-reporting unless the school had reason to believe that the student was lying and only reporting the beer after being spotted by the teacher. There is no evidence of that in any of the news reports. I have long criticized zero tolerance policies that have led to suspensions and arrests of children (here and here and here and here and here). Here is a prior column on the subject (and here).Children have been suspended or expelled for drawing stick figures or wearing military hats or bringing Legos shaped like guns or even having Danish in the shape of a gun.
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.
Referring families to policies (wherever they can be found) is hardly an adequate response. All rules demand interpretation and yes judgment. That obligation is particularly great in dealing with children as an educator.