Zero Credibility

A math question: What are the odds that I should happen to check Twitter just after reading an article about the role of educators and then happen to have the top Tweet on my feed be the Mankato Free Press reporting that the United South Central School District had expelled an honors student with no previous infractions of any kind for having a pocketknife in her purse which violated their zero tolerance policy?

Answer: Probably about the same as a random drug search resulting in a drug-sniffing dog reacting to perfume which just happens to cause administrators to search the locker of an honors student which just happens to have a pocketknife in it which had been used to cut hay bales the night before.

Essay question: United South Central High School– Why do you exist?

I’m completely serious here. What in God’s name (if you were even allowed to invoke it) are you about over there? The catchy mission statement on your district home page says “Establishing opportunities for tomorrow’s learning…today.” How have you done that? What you have done is shut the door on Alyssa Drescher’s opportunities for tomorrow’s education as well as today’s. You have taken one of your best and brightest and hurled a major obstacle in her path rather than opened the doors and lit the way. What possible sequence of mental gymnastics would allow you to think that yesterday’s expulsion follows your mission statement, for Alyssa or for any other student at your school?

Why do you exist?

Superintendent Jerry Jensen purportsHelping students reach their highest potential in a safe, nurturing environment is our number one priority.” How does expulsion help Alyssa reach her highest potential? Are you daft enough to think that this will teach her some sort of lesson? A teachable moment? I can’t imagine that the lesson is to ‘not make that mistake again’ because being expelled means she doesn’t have the chance. And how does a zero tolerance crackdown on the first accidental infraction of policy come off as “nurturing” instead of Draconian? How does expulsion from the school environment promote any sort of nurturing or growth?

Perhaps the “safe environment” part of Dr. Jensen’s mission is more important than the rest of it. Safety above all. By expelling  Alyssa and adhering to the zero tolerance policy, you have helped maintain a “safe environment” for everyone else. This, I imagine, is the rallying cry of your defense. To which I say, “how?” Is it safe from Alyssa, the potential knife-wielding criminal? You can’t believe that this is remotely true and still think that Alyssa will “learn her lesson” through expulsion. To believe that your students are now safer suggests that you believe, even in THEORY, that Alyssa returning with a knife and possibly having that knife be used as a weapon is a plausible or even likely scenario.

Analogy question: ___________ : weapon :: pocketknife : tool
(___________ is to weapon as pocketknife is to tool.)

A. hammer
B. screwdriver
C. baseball bat
D. hand
E. scissors

Let me give you some help. All the test preparation guides tell you that you have to identify which type of analogy you’re looking at. In this case, through USC lenses a pocketknife is not a tool, which suggests opposite or opposing ideas. This means that all you have to do is look over the list of answers and find the object that most definitely could not be a weapon. Easy, right?  So go ahead and circle the answer. I’ll wait.

The fact is, intent plays a massive factor in establishing what is or becomes a weapon. I think this is pretty universally accepted, even without needing to go down that road into a social studies class covering the second amendment. Do you have reason to believe that Alyssa intended to use the pocketknife as a weapon, even in defense? And let me ask you something else–no, let me ask your STUDENTS something else…

An honors student with absolutely no record or indication of misbehavior or negative conduct of any kind is netted and neutralized as a threat only as the result of a random locker search. Do you feel safer today because of that? Because my guess is “no.” I got no sense that the students or their families breathed a sigh of relief, that an unsuspected bomb had been defused before anything horrible could happen. I got no impression that students feel more at ease now that Alyssa is gone. In fact, quite the opposite. The sense I get from your academic community is that if this could happen to Alyssa it could happen to anyone. They are now MORE fearful, MORE afraid than before. They are shaken and disturbed because there but for the grace of non-invokable deity go they.

And that is because there IS a weapon constantly lying dormant at your school, and you used it: the nuclear option of expulsion for infraction of a zero tolerance policy, a rule so iron-clad that your own mission statements shatter against its surface. And having demonstrated how far, how unyielding you are with that weapon, they must carry on at your school not wiser or more nurtured, but fearful and more anxious.

So I return again to your essay question: Why do you exist?

Perhaps your school doesn’t have essay questions, which by their nature must be weighed somewhat subjectively instead of to a clear standard of correct or incorrect answers, of simple right and wrong. Apparently that sort of thing makes you uncomfortable over there.

If you’re trying to give students the greatest chance at success, you’ve blown it, spectacularly. If you’re trying to impart knowledge to your students, then I very much question what it is that your students have learned today. Are you hoping to demonstrate justice? Can you honestly say that you felt good about how this all resolved, that it was just? That your conscience rested comfortably knowing that this was the right thing to do?

Are you trying to turn people into valuable members of the community? It seems pretty clear to me how the community feels about Alyssa, and it seems that it is in a very different light than how you see her. They are the ones heralding her work ethic, her responsibility, her potential, and her achievement as a student, not you. You believe that you are nurturing human beings while simultaneously dismissing her nature as a person. You seem to believe that this step was necessary in order to assert that all people must be treated “equally” without any consideration as to what you are making them equal to. All that a zero tolerance does is equate students with criminals, to believe the worst possible results from their actions–both deliberate and accidental–instead of looking to their potential for tomorrow…today. You are not fostering success; you are setting students up for failure.

Why do you exist? Why do you do what you do? I believe it’s because you are cowards who feel that the biggest part of your job is to make sure your asses are covered. Zero tolerance policies don’t protect students; they protect administrators. They give you a means to say “Sorry, our hands are tied. Those are the rules.” They exist because you aren’t as concerned about your students’ potential for success as you are about their potential for violence. You are worried about your potential liability, about what might happen if a student brings a weapon to school and in a whirlwind of chaos and an aftermath of shock and horror one of your most promising students, full of potential, is gone from your halls.

And yet, somehow, that’s exactly what happened.


Author of over sixty children's books, as well writer of textbook materials and standardized exam text. I may have helped teach your children...

Posted in Bullying, Semicoherent Rambling, The Kids
One comment on “Zero Credibility
  1. Jason – this is fantastically written. I, myself am a graduate of USC and am appalled by their actions. Part of me does understand as my mother is a para at the school and had explained to me that part of the reason they may be reacting so harshly to Alyssa and this situation is because they had another expulsion hearing a couple of weeks ago regarding a boy in the high school who was expelled because he threatened his girlfriend or ex-girlfriend (I’m not sure of the status of their relationship at the time) with a knife at the school. I, in no way, find that case similar to Alyssa’s at all a feel that the school administration is failing to look at each case individually. There is a massive difference between Alyssa’s and the boy which was expelled. I also find it extremely disheartening since when I was a sophomore or junior (I can’t remember which year it was) there was a boy in my class who had brought in an object which would shock people if he touched them with it. If he touched them long and hard enough it would leave small burn marks. He got away with having this object and shocking people with until lunch period, and then we watched as he was wrestled to the ground by the school security officer because he refused to turn the object over to the officer. In all of that commotion and distress, he was never expelled or threatened with expulsion. I think he received a couple of days of OSS and then a couple of days of ISS. Jensen is taking this case way too extremely and has forgotten that each student is an individual and they should be tried as individuals. It has nothing to do with her being an honor student (although that does add to her credibility), but with the fact that she is being treated as a sheep, as one of the herd, instead of as the individual she should be treated as. Great job on the article and I’m glad someone took the time to really lay out the facts. Bravo!

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