In North Andover, Mass., the 17-year-old captain of the volleyball team has been stripped of her leadership position and suspended for five games. Her offense: attending an underage drinking party. She "attended" when she answered a drunk friend's call for a ride home. She neither drank nor possessed alcohol during her breif time at the party, at which she arrived after the police. Nonetheless, say school administrators, rules are rules, and Erin Cox must be punished.
In Maryland this past spring, a second-grader was suspended for two days for chewing a Pop-Tart-like breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun and pretending to shoot it.
As The Washington Post put it, "School officials allege he pointed the weapon-shaped pastry at other students." The school administration insists that the incident is serious and must be placed on the 7-year-old's permanent record.
The Post also reported this case: "In Pennsylvania, a 5-year-old was suspended for talking to classmates about shooting her 'Hello Kitty' gun - which blows bubbles." She did not "shoot" the "gun." She just talked about blowing bubbles with it, and she was suspended.
In Georgia, a high school student had left a few fishing knives in his car, which he drove to school. He was arrested and faced felony charges. The county attorney dropped the charges this month, but some legislators told the Douglas County Sentinel that the case showed why Georgia's zero-tolerance law has to be changed. One legislator said a girl was disciplined for bringing a plastic knife to school to cut a cake for a class party.
In Huntsville, Ala., 15-year-old Christian Adamek streaked across the field during a school football game in September. He was arrested, and school officials said in grave tones that he faced expulsion and possible legal penalties for "public lewdness." If convicted, he could have faced prison time and classification as a sex offender. Under the weight of these looming punishments, Adamek hanged himself on Oct. 2.
In the name of "safety," overzealous school officials are harming children, sometimes ruining their lives. Children are not allowed to be children anymore. By definition, children are immature. They make mistakes. Teachers and administrators should turn those mistakes into teaching moments, not severe punishments with lifelong consequences.
And when a student violates a policy by acting responsibly, as in the case of Erin Cox, the school has a duty to revisit the policy, not punish someone for doing the right thing.
Has our society become so rule-bound, so reflexively unthinking, that we must punish kids for being kids?