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.”
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.