Zero Tolerance? Nope, Zero Thinking

Earlier this week, there came to light the story of Erin Cox:

Two weeks ago, Erin received a call from a friend at a party who was too drunk to drive. Erin drove to Boxford after work to pick up her friend. Moments after she arrived, the cops arrived too and busted several kids for underage possession of alcohol.

A North Andover High School honor student, Erin was cleared by police, who agreed she had not been drinking and was not in possession of alcohol. But Andover High told Erin she was in violation of the district’s zero tolerance policy against alcohol and drug use. In the middle of her senior year, Erin was demoted from captain of the volleyball team and told she would be suspended from playing for five games

Now when I read this my first thought was that this was more Zero Tolerance nonsense. But, as Jesse Walker notes, it’s actually worse than that:

“We do not have a ‘zero tolerance policy.’ Each incident is fully investigated and decided upon based on the individual facts and circumstances. Our administrators are tasked with applying the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) rules pertaining to student-athletes and alcohol in a consistent and fair manner,” Hutchinson wrote. “To be clear, the MIAA’s, and by extension North Andover High School’s, ‘chemical health rule’ prohibits student-athletes from possessing alcohol, in addition to prohibiting its use, consumption, or distribution.”

Walker:

In other words: According to Superintendent Hutchinson, Cox’s school does not have an inflexible rule that produced a perverse incentive to let a drunk friend drive a car. Cox’s school carefully considered the evidence, investigated its options, and then deliberately decided to take an action that produces a perverse incentive to let a drunk friend drive a car.

Never let it be said that zero tolerance is the single dumbest idea in American schools.

This is mind-boggling. The punishment visited on Cox is not that bad in the scheme of things (although it could harm her chances at scholarships). But why would any punishment be visited here? Because she was in the vicinity party where there was alcohol? Does alcohol emit evil alcohol rays that corrupt children so that they can not even be allowed in the building?

I know what their problem is: it’s that she responded to this in a sensible manner instead of calling the police. It’s because she accepted her friend’s drinking as a reality and dealt with the situation in hand instead of burning everything in the service of combating underage drinking. I think the base problem here is the hysteria over underage drinking and the lawhead belief that government and its agents can prevent people from touching a drop of alcohol until they are 21.

I’m reminded very forcefully of social host laws. Every year, high school students have graduation or prom parties in distant locations, get drunk and drive home. And every year, kids are killed this way. Some parents have tried hosting parties at their own homes: they turn a blind eye to the drinking as long as the kids turn over their keys. These parents, to thunderous applause by MADD and other lawheads, have been prosecuted under “social host laws“. The logic is the same: we need to stop kids from touching the evil firewater. All else is collateral damage. We can stop teenagers from drinking if we just try hard enough.

The message being sent could not be clearer: let your friends drive drunk. If they are killed or crippled as a result … well, that’ll learn ‘em not to drink.

Comments are closed.

  1. AlexInCT

    This story should have made even the most fervent advocate of the idiotic zero tollerance policy concept rethink about their support from such a flawed system. Unfortunately I have still some people defend this idiotic decision. I swear we are creating a society that punishes good or wanted behavior of any kind and encourages the bad, stupid, and unwanted behavior.

    It’s like the movie Ideocracy wasn’t a comedy, but a real glimps of where we are heading, only it will not take 5 centuries to get there as we seem to be on pace to do it in just 5 decades.

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  2. Seattle Outcast

    I remember the good old days when the drinking age was 18, and quite honestly, where I grew up most kids started drinking socially in junior high and were past the binge drinking phase by high school.

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  3. AlexInCT

    I remember the good old days when the drinking age was 18, and quite honestly, where I grew up most kids started drinking socially in junior high and were past the binge drinking phase by high school.

    You want to hear something weird? I actually never had a drink before I turned 19 and on my brithday I went out with some classmates and they talked me into it. I had my kid, when he turned 18, have his first beer at home, just so I could make sure he wouldn’t get in trouble. He didn’t like that too much, but he did not mind the Jim Beam I drink occasionally. Not letting him do it without me around till he is legal, or at least I am hoping that’s the case.

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  4. richtaylor365

    I’m confused, the article says she was in violation of their zero tolerance policy but the school Super said they have no such policy, which is it?

    I would like to know how the school found out about the incident in the first place. Cox was not cited at the scene so there would be no official police record of her being there, who ratted her off?

    I’m going to take the other side and stand on the side of SOME zero tolerance policies, here’s why. Kids don’t need ambiguity, they need definable well established parameters. A zero tolerance policy wrt alcohol and drugs levels the playing field, so the star QB or shooting guard gets booted off the team just like a third string center, it matters not who your parents are, how much of a stink they make or any mitigating circumstances involved (possession of an open containers vs. say a drunk driving arrest). It’s simple really, if you do this (get caught drinking or drugging) you are off the team, no matter who you are.

    Where the policy falls flat in this incidence is that Cox was not drinking so she was not in violation of the policy. What is clearly missing here is logical reasoning thinking school administrators who can string a few facts together and come up with a reasonable conclusion. And as usual, with anything that has to do with public education, the letter of the law always takes a front seat to the spirit of the law.

    Even with a zero tolerance policy, there has to be a method or procedure to appeal, to address grievances, and the appeal should have shinned proper light on what was appropriate here. But given the state of our society, how parents rally to the needs and desires of their kids, even when those kids have done terrible wrongs (look at the parents of those vile teenagers that wrote those horrible things on facebook, ultimately resulting in the victim jumping off a tower to her death), you think those parents understand at all how rotten their kids turned out? No, they think their kids are saints and made up some cock and bull story about their accounts being hacked. As we have seen over and over, bad conduct, even criminal conduct can be ignored or white washed when enough heat is brought to bear on the school even when they try to do the right thing.

    And, as we have seen before in cases like this, the schools ultimately see how bad they screwed up and make things right. I hope a follow up story results, documenting how Cox got her captaincy back and is back on the team.

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  5. Seattle Outcast

    What is clearly missing here is logical reasoning thinking school administrators who can string a few facts together and come up with a reasonable conclusion.

    I would assume that all the administrators were college educated people, most likely with degrees in English, Music, Theatrical Arts, Classics, or some other equally useful area of study where they are “taught how to think”…..

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  6. Aussiesmurf

    The disconnect regarding the ages at which people are considered ‘adult’ enough to do certain things is mind-boggling.

    To the best of my knowledge (and I’m open to corrections) in the majority of states in the US :

    12+ – students have been convicted of crimes when ‘tried as an adult’
    14+ age of consent in many states
    16+ can drive a car legally
    17+ the age at which children have committed crimes for which they have been later executed.
    18+ can vote
    18+ can join the army

    So in the eyes of legislatures, people can be old enough to be considered an ‘adult’ with regard to all those things, but are still too immature to decide whether or not to imbibe alcohol…

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  7. TxAg94

    Because she was in the vicinity party where there was alcohol? Does alcohol emit evil alcohol rays that corrupt children so that they can not even be allowed in the building?

    Come to my state where that is exactly what they think. Alcohol in many restaurants has to be hidden behind a wall so kids can’t see it and thus be tempted by it. I thought it was a dying view but I guess not.

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