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Sunday, September 24, 2023


Zero tolerance makes zero sense

It’s appalling to think that a 16-year-old could be suspended for mourning the loss of his father, but for one student at Bryon Nelson High School (located in Trophy Club, Texas, right outside of Denton) this misfortune was a reality.

When Kyler Robertson showed up to school with bloodshot eyes, there was no time for any explanations. Administrators automatically assumed that he was high and even claimed that they could smell marijuana on his clothes. The Zero Tolerance Policy enforced at schools imposes automatic punishment with the intention of eliminating undesirable behavior. Now the question is, what part of Robertson’s behavior was undesirable?

Having just lost his father two days prior, Robertson wanted to return to school to be around his friends for comfort. When the first administrator saw him with bloodshot eyes, he was issued a three-day suspension. His mother even called to notify the school that his father had just been stabbed to death — all to no avail.

In this case, it appears that there was no judgment or common sense used. There could have been numerous reasons why Robertson had red eyes. There was no evidence of drug use; it was all based on poor assumptions. The situation escalated so wildly that Robertson provided a drug test to prove he was not smoking, and after doing so the suspension was lifted.

In the UH Student Handbook, the Zero Tolerance Policy states that a person commits an offense if he appears in public under the influence, but there is no definition of how one should appear. If a student is suspected of being under the influence, they are required to see the dean, and many times will receive a student life referral. These SLRs have the probability of staying on a student’s transcript up to graduation and sometimes after.

Little research has been done to evaluate the success of the Zero Tolerance Policy, but just by appearances it seems administrators are barred from using their judgment. Reducing severe punishments for minor offenses or considering extenuating circumstances has seemed to disappear.

This policy has resulted in embarrassing publicity for schools, including Bryon Nelson High School. Critics of the policy say it neglects the investigation on a case-by-case basis and may lead to unreasonably harsh penalties for crimes that may not warrant such severity.

Zero tolerance policies have the potential to prohibit their enforcers from making the punishment fit the crime, so it would make sense to have this policy reexamined. But until that happens, high school and college students will have to be patient and hope that when they cry, no one will notice the next day.

Merina Mesa is a communication junior and may be reached at [email protected].

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