It sometimes seems like school administrators are competing to show the most unhinged and ridiculous applications of a “zero tolerance” rule. The school officials at Bayside Middle School may have finally won this dubious competition with the charges against sixth grader Adrionna Harris. Harris did what most people would consider a commendable if not heroic act. She stopped a fellow student who was cutting himself with a razor and then threw the razor away. She told administrators what happened and those administrators proceeded to suspend her and recommend expulsion.
What is really amazingly is the the razor (thrown in the trash) was never found so it was Adrionna’s word alone that was used to substantiate the charge. So she was disciplined for not only grabbing the razor but telling the truth to school officials — quite a lesson for other students. (Presumably, if Harris was viewed as bringing a weapon to school or involved in a student cutting incident, there would have been either additional disciplinary charges or a police charge).
The school simply maintains that she had possession of a razor and did not report it. However, school officials have reportedly refused to respond to the parents or the media.
Adrionna was allowed back into school. However, the question is why all those responsible for this charge are not themselves disciplined or fired. We have previously followed the suspensions and discipline of students under zero tolerance policies that are used by teachers to justify zero judgment or responsibility. I have long criticized zero tolerance policies that have led to suspensions and arrests of children (here, 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. Despite the public outcry over the completely irrational and abusive application of zero tolerance rules, administrators and teachers continue to apply them blindly. If you do not have to exercise judgment, you can never been blamed for any failure. Conversely, even when the public outcry results in a reversals, teachers and administrators never seem punished with the same vigor for showing no judgment or logic in punishing a child.
In this case, school administrators have not only failed to properly reward a student for an admirable act but abused the student in a robotic, senseless application of this policy. It is unnerving to leave a child in the care of such people who act in arbitrary and capricious ways to the detriment of students. This decision had to be made with the knowledge and approval of multiple district officials. If the public accounts of this case are correct (and there has been no denial from the district), this action for both moronic and abusive. Yet, it is unlikely that anyone will be punished for the action. The lack of punishment will reaffirm that view that it is safer to brutalize students rather than use any discretion or judgment as an adult.
Principle Dr. Paula Johnson was just honored in 2013 as 2013 Outstanding Secondary School Assistant Principal of the Year. Johnson told the family that the school would not force the full suspension, which was a relief. However, there remains the original senseless act directed against this student.