Zero Tolerlance
July 9, 2001 2:10 PM   Subscribe

Zero Tolerlance The ACLU calls it "Zero Intelligence": The Las Vegas Weekly reports on the story of a 14-year-old middle school student being jailed for ten days and then expelled from school for making the wrong offhand remark and fitting the wrong profile (i.e. well-groomed, well-liked, and gets good grades). Unfortunately this is not an April Fools' joke.
posted by Postroad (38 comments total)
The solution here is quite simple. Sue them. Sue them for an amount of money so huge that it would bring the school district to its knees. And sue every individual that was even 1% involved in this sequence of events that let to this action. In short, go Scientologist on their asses, and make the people in charge realize that if they don't end this persecution, then their own lives will be made living hells.

It's extreme, but unfortunately it's the only option the boy's family has to make things right.
posted by aaron at 2:30 PM on July 9, 2001

This whole debacle began with the guy rejecting a couple high school girls who wanted to go on a date with him, thus proving "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned"
posted by jrbender at 2:33 PM on July 9, 2001

I'm with aaron, I think. I have to wonder if what happened to him is even *legal*? is it because he's a juvenile that he can be held without being charged?

- so if you wear black and keep to yourself, and are harrassed by your schoolmates, you fit the profile
- and if you're well-groomed, well-liked, and get good grades, you fit the profile

at this point, who *doesn't* fit the profile?
posted by rebeccablood at 2:35 PM on July 9, 2001

What a tragedy! As much as I hate lawsuits, I'm afraid aaron may have the solution. It sure would be refreshing for the school corp. to come forward, apologize profulsely and reinstate the kid, but it would take mammoth courage to show your face in school after all this.
posted by ideola at 2:40 PM on July 9, 2001

who *doesn't* fit the profile?

Girls, apparantly. As jrbender noted, the only people in this mess that seem to have actually done anything to inflict damage on another student is the two girls. And yet it's only boys that are suspect. And found guilty and expelled by kangaroo courts.

The girls and their parents should themselves be added to the list of people sued. I have read about at least one case in the past where a pair of girls were actually convicted of making false charges against a student that led to something like this.
posted by aaron at 2:42 PM on July 9, 2001

We all complain about the lawsuit culture, but aaron is absolutely right: These people need to do everything in their power to slash a big steaming wound into the belly of "zero tolerance" programs. They're the only ones armed with the legal and moral right to do so at the moment.
posted by logovisual at 2:47 PM on July 9, 2001

aaron, I think that's too harsh. I'm sure those girls never suspected what would follow.

in fact, I completely disagree with suing the girls unless you can demostrate that they over-stated the incident in the first place: you don't want to discourage students from reporting behavior that should be brought to the attention of school authorities.

the problem is not with the girls, but with the school authorities and law enforcement. we want children to report to adults whatever seems suspicious or scary to them; we need to be able to rely on the adults to make sensible decisions. that's the way it's supposed to work, the children aren't supposed to have to filter their information to the adults in case the adults freak out and behave completely inappropriately.
posted by rebeccablood at 2:49 PM on July 9, 2001

where's the evidence that the girls needed to make false charges or had to exaggerate anything? The kid admits to being angry and saying they're the kind of people who get on Columbine lists, and it obviously doesn't take much to send these braindead admin zombies into full-on wanker mode.
posted by techgnollogic at 2:57 PM on July 9, 2001

yet another story of small minded reactionaries in the education system drunk on power. i'm reminded of a saying my father used to tell me.

"those who can, do. those who can't, teach."

i agree with aaron, litigate the administration and law enforcement without mercy.
posted by will at 3:09 PM on July 9, 2001

Those bastards!
posted by stbalbach at 3:11 PM on July 9, 2001

rebeccablood: *the girls went to the school admins and said the word 'Columbine'*. you don't do that unless you're serious. you don't do that without knowing the consequences.

do you think the girls did it because they truly felt threatened or to get revenge? given that they wanted to take the guy on a date the day before, i'd wager the latter.
posted by jrbender at 3:12 PM on July 9, 2001

well, they're on MY list.
and i can say that, because i'm neither well-groomed nor well-liked, and i get lousy grades. neener neener neener.
posted by quonsar at 3:14 PM on July 9, 2001

Well we don't have no records, no statements, no videotapes showing what really happened and we'll probably never know.

Overreacting is normal when big amounts of money , voracious insurance companies are behind you. Not mentioning the possibility of being sued for millions
of dollars. That's what really matters, doesn't it ? Sue
countersue and money.

I don't see any easy solution to the problem "protect the kids from evil kids and from overreacting principals" but I see some workaround that can ease the effects of overreacting :

if a court finds that the kid is innocent, then the school must buy media space (on tv, newspapers) to restore the kid credibility ; not a spot , but a few minutes on tv and 2-3 pages on local newspaper and one page on national newspapers, if the story has national coverage.

That should be done not only for kids, but for everyone who's accused but then found innocent. And that without a need for countersuing..but with a direct court order.

Note: intersting fact Clark County School District doesn't even mention the incident.

and there's the WoodBury Midschool webpage and
Mission Statement

I'm thinking about something for overreacting media too.
posted by elpapacito at 3:20 PM on July 9, 2001

Goofus gets good grades, respects his teachers, and wears nice clothes.

Gallant acts out his aggressions on the playground, like a good student.

Be more like Gallant.
posted by dhartung at 3:27 PM on July 9, 2001

jrbender: so was the guy as serious when he said it as the girls were when they reported it?

If the girls knew the school would freak out, because it's such a serious word, then the guy knew how serious it is too, so by that reasoning he must have meant it as a threat, right?

Nothing gives this kid the right to threaten anybody. He doesn't get a free ride just because the school's paranoid.

elpapacito: the article quotes the kid as saying he said it, so, there you have it.
posted by techgnollogic at 3:27 PM on July 9, 2001

jrbender: do you think the girls did it because they truly felt threatened or to get revenge?

I suspect they did it to get revenge, but there's no telling.

my point still stands: we don't expect children or even teenagers to make sensible decisions about things. we tell them to come to us, because, as adults, we are supposed to have the life experience to separate childish things from important things.

we expect that young people will make errors in judgement. we are supposed to be the level heads, offering them guidance.

it is not the girl's fault that the adults in this matter acted so very ridiculously and inappropriately.

techgnollogic: by my reading, he didn't threaten the girls, he used a reference to current culture as shorthand to convey to them that they were being obnoxious.
posted by rebeccablood at 3:32 PM on July 9, 2001

We shouldn't depend on students not to tell on each other when the word "Columbine" is tossed out as a schoolyard threat, for fear that their moronic administrators might overreact.

I don't fault those girls for taking the issue up with administrators -- if the kid had an arsenal in his garage, we'd be calling them heroes.
posted by rcade at 4:19 PM on July 9, 2001


*the girls went to the school admins and said the word 'Columbine'*. you don't do that unless you're serious. you don't do that without knowing the consequences.

The same could be said of the boy... "The boy went to the girls and said the word "Columbine". You don't do that unless you're serious; you don't do that without knowing the consequences".

The fact of the matter is that the adults that finally handled the issue should have had their heads screwed on before making any decisions.

I'm with Rebecca... "We expect that young people will make errors in judgement. We are supposed to be the level heads, offering them guidance".
posted by silusGROK at 4:21 PM on July 9, 2001

Wow. As far as I can see this was thoroughly mishandled by the adults involved.

I don't think the boy was thinking clearly when he made that snide remark to those girls. Nor do I think that the girls intentionally sensationalized the boy's comment in hopes of satisfying any sort of feelings of revenge by telling the authorities. And boy howdy do I think it was mistake on his part to include a reference to Columbine in a conversation where he was angry and frustrated. Were the girls wrong to tell the authorities at all? I don't think so. They probably felt like they were doing the right thing.

What I can't see is why, when the situation was elevated to the level of adults, it worsened so rapidly! Those girls did just what adult and media role models have taught children to do since Columbine- come forward immediately and avert the next massacre.

But handcuffs, strip searches, keeping the boy in custody without telling his legal guardians of the reason!? Did anyone at the school administration level work to get this kid in a room with a psychologist or a counselor to try and see if he posed any risk at all? Did the police ask any questions to the school's administrators before carting the boy off?

It is too bad that the boy felt it necessary to embody his insult in a reference to Columbine, but it is too too bad the way the School's administration and the local law enforcement ensured the creation of a tragedy out of a situation that might or might not have been one in the first.
posted by lpqboy at 4:36 PM on July 9, 2001

Well, it finally happened- I agree with aaron wholeheartedly! The thing is, school districts and other public institutions essentially play a Pascal's wager- they institute these ludicrously overreacting policies precisely because they fear the lawsuits after a Columbine. Perhaps the only way to pull the pendulum back is to starting having suits against these types of reactions.

However, the comments about "Columbine" bother me; it's like some sort of secret police/ black armband mentality: Oh, you said Columbine- the Gestapo will want to know about this! "Columbine" is a shibboleth, and as such shouldn't be regarded with any meaning any more. It's not much different than when you see people eventually resort to the phrase "Well, you're a Nazi!" in some online discussion, or the MeFi rant, "If I see one more post about __________, I'm gonna go on a multi-state killing rampage!" It's not meant seriously, and kids are kids- they especially say things like that that don't mean anything, really (haven't you ever heard a kid say "I hope you die!" or "I wish I was never born!"? They don't, of course, but it's the sufficiently angry language to suit their strong emotions at the time.). And there's a difference between things said in casual conversation that we often later regret and going to "authority" figures knowing full well- these kids are media savvy- just want kind of reaction it will engender. I call Bullshit on those girls, but a far bigger Bullshit on the school and police authorities.
posted by hincandenza at 4:46 PM on July 9, 2001

If the boy didn't want to shoot up a school before, I bet he does now.
posted by bytecode at 5:07 PM on July 9, 2001

During his expulsion hearing, district officials said Joseph K. fits the "profile" of a potentially violent student: He's well-groomed, gets good grades and is well liked.

I thought the profile was picked-on loners who don't dress to conform.

Gotta go with the "sue 'em" crowd on this one.
posted by swell at 5:08 PM on July 9, 2001

The solution here is quite simple. Sue them. Sue them for an amount of money so huge that it would bring the school district to its knees.

Yeah, screw all those other kids in the school who would otherwise benefit from a sufficient local education budget. Sue the school board for every dime they have! We've got a point to prove!
posted by Laugh_track at 5:23 PM on July 9, 2001

laugh_track, a school district which permits such atrocities to be committed doesn't deserve its funding anymore. What alternative do you propose?
posted by darukaru at 5:28 PM on July 9, 2001

A couple of you point out that the boy should have known not to say 'Columbine' as much as the girls should have known not to say it to the school admins. You seem to blank out the fact that what one 14 yo says to another 14 yo follows a different standard than what one 14 yo says to a school admin. 14 yos routinely exaggerate and overstate; when a 14 yo says 'i'll kill you' it isn't a death threat. but if a 14 tells an adult that so-and-so said 'i'll kill you' then it *is* a death threat they're conveying to that adult.
posted by jrbender at 5:31 PM on July 9, 2001

Thought continued: yes, we do have a point to prove here. If you want to raise children in the USA who don't have to live in fear of thoughtcrime, then this is your battle too. It's shit like this that makes me want to homeschool. It's shit like this that makes me glad every day that I graduated high school before the Columbine mess went down, because I would have fitted every profile in the book, and I have never so much as touched a gun in my life. I see stories like this and I realize that I could be the guy getting imprisoned, cavity-searched, medicated, and counseled, but for a couple of years.
posted by darukaru at 5:36 PM on July 9, 2001

The point, laugh_track, is that by suing for an immense amount of money, possibly more than the school district is even worth, then the school district will be forced to settle out-of-court. If the choice is between dissolution of the school district and giving this kid his rights back, they're going to choose the latter option.

Welcome to the Dark Side, hincandenza! Your membership card has been mailed.
posted by aaron at 5:37 PM on July 9, 2001

And by settling, the idiots who pushed through the expulsion might just face a similar humiliation to the one they inflicted.

I don't know anywhere near enough about the way school districts work in the US, but all the MeFi threads make it appear as if it's very much a polarised state of affairs, with little chance for parents -- or even teachers -- to influence policy. Anyone want to offer links on how things work, or is it one of those things that varies greatly between states, and even counties? (British state schools, by law, have to have parental and teacher representation on the board of governors.)

(Was it just me, or was the whole Kafka thing in that report completely overdone? The story was close enough to "The Trial" not to need it spelling out in every sentence.)
posted by holgate at 6:00 PM on July 9, 2001

I am so happy that this is happening, now, to these kids, and so many other kids in US public schools. This is the type of rigid, vicious, prison-camp totalitarianism that will permanently shatter any future hope of true tyranny in America.

Some kids will be broken by these events. Others, however, will go through the rest of their lives with a permanent grudge against all forms of centralized control, with a black hatred of authority, with a permanent mistrust of rules and regulations. These petty pocket-dictators are breeding their own doom. The best and the brightest of these damaged children will grow up learning to keep their mouths shut, but also learning that they must have power in order to speak. They will carry their hate of authority in secret, until they gain positions of power in workplaces, and perhaps even public office.

Age this kid twenty years. Put him on a school council. What programs will he endorse? Age him ten more years, and let him be a senator. How do you think he will vote, when asked about mandatory IDs, or the legality of traffic cameras, or whether public education should be funded? Consider his policy on extending pension plans for retired schoolteachers.

I think we will see the tides change.
posted by Unxmaal at 6:55 PM on July 9, 2001

The point, laugh_track, is that by suing for an immense amount of money, possibly more than the school district is even worth, then the school district will be forced to settle out-of-court. If the choice is between dissolution of the school district and giving this kid his rights back, they're going to choose the latter option.

Thanks for elaborating - point taken.
posted by Laugh_track at 6:59 PM on July 9, 2001

Anyone want to offer links on how things work?

Here's a link I just came across, which deals with your question as to how little say teachers have (it is a hack-job opinion piece, but it gets the gist across).

I just typed out a long explanation of how the school systems are set up here, but then I erased it because I was just giving you the org chart and not saying how it all really happens. Basically, local school board officials are elected, so you have all the usual partisan squabbles. Plus you have most of the teachers belonging to the NEA (teacher's union), which is arguably the single most powerful union in the country. It is extremely liberal, and tries as best it can to force the entire nationwide public education system to bow to its wishes which, as you might expect ... well, you know what, I can't even get into that because then someone else will come along and claim the NEA is God on Earth. (As you can see, even attempting to explain it impartially is nearly impossible, which should give you a big hint as to how little the average parent can have an effect.) Anyway, the local boards have to answer to the state boards, which often have the final say over which sets of textbooks and lesson plans the local systems may choose from. Even better is that this means only the biggest states get to choose which books ever hit the market in the first place; without one of the huger systems putting its stamp of approval on a given textbook, the publisher probably won't ever make any money on it and thus never tries to put it on the market. So you get a lowest-common-denominator thing going on with everything the kids are being taught. And the national Dept. of Education lords above all else, though there is still some level of states' rights allowed to remain intact. This is all stream-of-consciousness, bleah.
posted by aaron at 10:23 PM on July 9, 2001

Thanks. You don't have to be partisan to get a sense of the system's layer upon layer of entrenched interest, which is always going to be a recipe for paranoia and knee-jerk policy.

Annoyingly, I can't find any decent links in English describing the local management of the German system, which remains the envy of Europe. Or rather systems, since the structure and curriculum is highly devolved to the Länder, allowing them to adapt schooling to reflect regional culture and political preferences. If anyone has knowledge of how it works on a ground level, especially wrt the input of parents, I'd really be interested.
posted by holgate at 5:20 AM on July 10, 2001

holgate, from my observation, it depends greatly on the school district. my sister lives in a well to do village with high taxes, and as you might expect, parents - while probably not involved in the over-reaching decisions for curriculum and the like - have substantial input in the day-to-day teacher interactions with their children.
posted by rebeccablood at 5:25 AM on July 10, 2001

The solution here is quite simple. Sue them. Sue them for an amount of money so huge that it would bring the school district to its knees.

Yeah, screw all those other kids in the school who would otherwise benefit from a sufficient local education budget. Sue the school board for every dime they have! We've got a point to prove!

this is the worst case of the "money-solves-all-our-education-problems" fallacy I have ever heard. Our school systems are not helpless victims of Republicans who want to take away their moeny and power while attempting altruistically to bring knowledge and a love of learning to children. Our school systems are evil institutions capable (and willing, for no reason) of ruining the lives of children on many occasions; at the very least of locking them up for six hours a day wasting their time that could be better spent working, or reading, or doing almost anything, watching Hollywood movies and poorly made documentaries; of enforcing backwards values which holds as well-regarded not intelligence and learning, but rather limited physical abilities, physical attractiveness, and adherence to societal gender roles of jock/cheerleader; of enforced conformity; where we're robbed of our Constitutional rights; where we're robbed of the opportunity to learn our Constitutional rights because our social studies department is filled with coaches who don't give a shit.

Oh, and no one is exempt from this bullshit of being subject, even females. My principal and a couple others tried to force/intimidate me into confessing to making death threats based on something an unnamed source told them.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:26 AM on July 10, 2001

Here's my take: the girls were absolutely right to report it to the school -- even though it happened outside of school. The comment obviously made them feel uncomfortable, and the administrators can check up on the student to make sure everything's going okay at home, in his personal life, etc. I'd rather students err on the side of caution.

However, the administrators should have acted much differently. They should have immediately talked with his guardians to determine if Joseph is an immediate threat. If not an immediate threat, Joseph should have been placed in counseling for a week outside of classes.

If it was immediately evident to the counselor that his comment wasn't meant as a threat, but rather a poorly chosen comment, the matter should be dropped and Joseph should have been cautioned about making such references. If it was a threat intended to scare, but not with the intention of acting out the threat, counseling should continue. If he was planning on performing the act, then he should be moving into a special school.

I doubt that Joseph's comment was meant as a threat, but it is important to ensure the safety of the school without ostracizing the student or violating his rights. The staff should be open-minded and caring when investigating such matters, and *never* include law enforcement unless a crime has actually been committed.
posted by jennak at 8:31 AM on July 10, 2001

How much credibility should be given to the newspaper report in the first place? This is an editorial and not a factual report.

1) Look at the illustration. First of all, why not some photographs of the involved parties? If they refused, why come up with this Opie-looking doofus? The handcuffs are no more incongruous on a child than those clothes and that haircut on a purported 14-YO.

2) Here's a line that I liked: "...district officials said
Joseph K. fits the "profile" of a potentially violent student: He's well-groomed, gets good grades and is well liked."

The scare marks should raise some questions: Are those details really part of the profile or just the writer's sarcasm? Is that the entire profile?

The reporter's in-depth investigation of the police reports (which consisted of a summary given by a policeman) reveals that this boy is afflicted with ADD and lives, not with his biological parents, but with his grandparents. Could it be that those two facts might be part of this profile? Could it then follow that other facts (perhaps overlooked by the reporter) might also apply to both the boy and the profile?

Further down, the reporter reveals that The Profile According to Las Vegas Weekly (let's give it some presence, since it seems central to the reporter's indignation) was revealed to the grandparents during an expulsion hearing. So The Profile is now hearsay being passed along by someone looking for a hook for a story.

3) The reporter claims the boy "...was kicked out of the eighth grade." This is patently false. He was expelled from one school. He's now attending another. The timing of the expulsion seemed to be at the end of the school year, so maybe that qualifies as being kicked out of 8th grade.

4) The new school is described as being "...a series of prison-like trailers..." What sort of prison is built out of a trailer park? Is this factual or is it just more editorializing?

5) The reporter says that the police asked the boy questions like: "Is he depressed? -- Did he have a list? -- Did he hate anyone?" I don't see the answers to these questions in the article. Is it possible that the boy may have answered "Yes" to one or more of these? Would that have raised any warning flags if he had? Would the reporter have been satisfied then?

6) When the girls reported the threat, the school administrators contacted the police. The police spokesman notes that "we started getting information from...Chaparral and Woodbury and Joseph K had some other issues he was dealing with". The reporter (why am I getting a picture of Jimmy Olsen on his first assignment?) reflects on this: "These 'issues' might have had...".

Aside from the scare marks intended to discount the police concerns about the issues under discussion, the reporter falls into speculation mode: "...might have had...". Where are the facts about these issues? Either the reporter doesn't know them, doesn't know how to discuss them, or is discarding them because they don't fit the structure of self-righteous indignation being built here.

It's possible that the administration of two different schools, the police, the judicial system, and the various social services involved in this case overreacted. However, this article -- with its shoddy reporting and yellow press tactics -- should not be used to reach that conclusion. What do you suppose this reporter would be saying if the police had ignored a real threat and tragedy had occurred?
posted by joaquim at 11:04 AM on July 10, 2001 [1 favorite]


Joaquim did a much better job then mine at pointing out that our source (LA newspaper) _may_ not be reliable. Personally I've learned never to trust media, but only to trust my eyes.

So whatever the kid said to the girls, we'll never know unless there's some recording of it (and unless the recording was somehow engineered by some interested party).

What really angers me is the fact the boy may suffer from the possible overreaction of the principal and that the principal may be also be commended for "protecting others childrens" from a "potential threat". Yeah sure protecting childrens from potential threat ..anything may be a potential threat.

But who gives a fuck, unless it happens to me right ? No
posted by elpapacito at 12:37 PM on July 10, 2001

However, the administrators should have acted much differently. They should have immediately talked with his guardians to determine if Joseph is an immediate threat. If not an immediate threat, Joseph should have been placed in counseling for a week outside of classes.

Of course, your entire scenario depends on the assumption that the counselor is not a total idiot. My counselor couldn't handle helping me sign up for dual enrollment, and her idea of relating to me was to call Dr. Strangelove (I have a Dr. Strangelove t-shirt) "one of those Holland movies." I'm thinking this is because there's a movie theatre in Holland that shows alternative movies. Or something. But Holland, Michigan, fer chrissakes. So I don't have great confidence in her ability to distinguish an off-hand comment, an idle threat, and a real threat.

Are you beginning to see how utterly beyond hope our school system is?
posted by dagnyscott at 6:53 AM on July 11, 2001

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