Texas School Overreaction

Seems that a Texas school has suspended a 9-year-old for threatening another student with a replica One Ring. (Yes, that One Ring.)

I've written about this sort of thing before:

These so-called zero-tolerance policies are actually zero-discretion policies. They're policies that must be followed, no situational discretion allowed. We encounter them whenever we go through airport security: no liquids, gels or aerosols. Some workplaces have them for sexual harassment incidents; in some sports a banned substance found in a urine sample means suspension, even if it's for a real medical condition. Judges have zero discretion when faced with mandatory sentencing laws: three strikes for drug offenses and you go to jail, mandatory sentencing for statutory rape (underage sex), etc. A national restaurant chain won't serve hamburgers rare, even if you offer to sign a waiver. Whenever you hear "that's the rule, and I can't do anything about it" -- and they're not lying to get rid of you -- you're butting against a zero discretion policy.

These policies enrage us because they are blind to circumstance. Editorial after editorial denounced the suspensions of elementary school children for offenses that anyone with any common sense would agree were accidental and harmless. The Internet is filled with essays demonstrating how the TSA's rules are nonsensical and sometimes don't even improve security. I've written some of them. What we want is for those involved in the situations to have discretion.

However, problems with discretion were the reason behind these mandatory policies in the first place. Discretion is often applied inconsistently. One school principal might deal with knives in the classroom one way, and another principal another way. Your drug sentence could depend considerably on how sympathetic your judge is, or on whether she's having a bad day.

My guess is that the school administration ended up trapped by its own policies, probably even believing that they were correctly being applied. You can hear that in this hearsay quote reported by the boy's father:

Steward said the principal said threats to another child's safety would not be tolerated - whether magical or not.

Slashdot thread. Reddit thread.

Posted on February 2, 2015 at 12:37 PM • 41 Comments

Comments

AnuraFebruary 2, 2015 12:50 PM

To be fair to the school, this isn't the first time the kid has made trouble. According to the article:

The family moved to the Kermit Independent School District only six months ago, but it’s been nothing but headaches for Aiden. He’s already been suspended three times this school year.

Two of the disciplinary actions this year were in-school suspensions for referring to a classmate as black and bringing his favorite book to school: "The Big Book of Knowledge."

“He loves that book. They were studying the solar system and he took it to school. He thought his teacher would be impressed,” Steward said.

But the teacher learned the popular children’s encyclopedia had a section on pregnancy, depicting a pregnant woman in an illustration, he explained.


Amy KFebruary 2, 2015 1:23 PM

@Anura "this isn't the first time the kid has made trouble". Are you serious? Acknowledging a person's race is not "making trouble". Neither is bringing to show-and-tell a book on scientific facts. That you characterize these incidents as "making trouble" is instead a further example of a lack of discretionary thinking.

Chris FFebruary 2, 2015 1:33 PM

There's crucial context missing around the suspension for calling another classmate black. That can be done in a way that there's nothing wrong with or in a way that does warrant a suspension. Suspending someone for bringing in an education book targeted towards kids seems excessive. I'm wondering if he's getting caught in zero tolerance policies that shouldn't be there or someone is holding a grudge against him for something else, such as calling a classmate black.

Frank MitchellFebruary 2, 2015 1:44 PM

Seriously, I wonder if this school IS enforcing policies selectively. Making someone invisible isn't a threat, "terroristic" or otherwise, and "black" isn't a racial epithet. Either the other kids are so cowed by the administration that they know not to violate these policies (in earshot of teachers), OR the other kids tattle on this kid at every opportunity, OR teachers have decided this kid is trouble and chronicle anything and everything they can construe as "disruptions". (Some studies I've read indicate that teachers quickly decide who the "good" and "bad" students are.) Granted, it's been 40 years since I was in grade school (in a Catholic school in Texas), but it's hard to believe the other kids don't pull the same crap they have for decades, centuries, and probably millennia.

AlexFebruary 2, 2015 2:09 PM

Has zero tolerance for anything ever actually worked? I'm with Bruce on this one -- this sort of crap exists everywhere now. I'm so sick of hearing "I'm alright with it if it makes us safer" and "Remember 9/11"... Get over it people! None of this is helping or making anything better/safer for anyone. If anything it puts us more at risk as this crap takes away resources from real threats.

Let's bring back Common Sense and good sound judgement. I'll make a suggestion on how we can start: Get rid of the TSA. It's obvious they're still oblivious to real security. Let's get some real security in place instead. I've never had to deal with TSA-like shenanigans at military bases, federal courthouses, or federal agency buildings, all which housed much more strategic things than an airport.

AnuraFebruary 2, 2015 2:31 PM

@Chris F

"There's crucial context missing around the suspension for calling another classmate black."

No, there's not. If there is a problem, it wasn't that they called the kid "black." That is a perfectly acceptable term, preferred over "African American" by most black people in the world, especially those that are not American. If the student was making fun of the kid because of their race, then that should have been what he was suspended for. If the student believes they were suspended for calling a kid "black", even if they were suspended for making fun of the kids race, then the school was not effective in communicating what he did wrong and is learning the wrong thing when it comes to race issues either way.

CallMeLateForSupperFebruary 2, 2015 2:35 PM

Yeah, the zero-discretion disease is a PITA. Regarding the classroom, encroaching zero-tolerance rules and the nonsense of No Child Left Behind are, together, *the* reasons why three of my close friends chose to retire from teaching early.

Coincidently, I stopped doing business at a store in my neighborhood about a month ago because of its no-discretion rule requiring photo ID for alcohol or tobacco purchase. I had expressed my displeasure to management several times over a seven-month period, also (gently) to each cashier who "carded" me in the mean time, to no avail. Now, I was a customer from the time they opened (16+ years ago); I know every employee by name, and they know me; with receding hairline, bags under my eyes, and a 3-inch gray beard, I could not be mistaken for a minor by a person who has the requisite brain power to operate a POS and make change. Nevertheless, management would not budge. Apparently they prefer losing a customer - and at least $6,500/yr - to easing or trashing their zero-discretion rule. So I give my business to an establishment five blocks down the pike that treats its employees and me like adults.

old_man_cFebruary 2, 2015 2:59 PM

@Anura wrote:


. @Amy K

. "Are you serious?"

. No.

Sorry, Anura. Once you use irony, you label yourself as someone who can't be trusted. How do we know you're serious THIS TIME?

RonFebruary 2, 2015 3:05 PM

Zero tolerance sounds so line in the sand. But oddly, it is not followed regarding police. There are many articles, even daily, about how cops break the law, their actions caught on video, and nothing happens to them. Read TheFreeThoughtProject.com or PhotographyIsNotACrime.com, which report on these incidents. On rare occasion, a cop is punished for breaking the law, like snatching someone's camera (as happened recently), but mostly, no. Look at the beatings at Riker's Island. Guards and supervisors fired for beatings but...that's beatings where people were seriously injured so why not prosecution? Excuses.

Zero-tolerance only applies to the weak, which means, school children. It's a sad way to teach children about authority.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 2, 2015 3:17 PM

Every time I come across these rules, my first thought is "does the person who made the rule have a 'bringing into disrepute rule' in their contract and if they do why is it not 'zero tolerance'", because at the end of the day that's what every 'zero tolerance' rule does, it brings the organisation into disrepute.

I was once told that "the only rule that should never be broken is that all rules should have escape clauses", and that the illogicallity of that rule showed why it was needed.

ArchonFebruary 2, 2015 3:34 PM

@Ron: "Zero-tolerance only applies to the weak, which means, school children. It's a sad way to teach children about authority."

Sad, but rather the point. It's easier to run a school if you can run it like a prison. Didn't Bruce once say something about that? Something about how everyone naturally wants to make their job hassle-free, the only problem is that "hassle-free" for an authority is an authoritarian power structure.

BrianFebruary 2, 2015 4:13 PM

When analyzed as educational institutions, most (US at least) primary and secondary schools make no sense. When analyzed as materials handling operations, however, they are typically fairly impressive. I have no comment on what this implies.

JPFebruary 2, 2015 5:26 PM

This being Texas, I strongly suspect the reasons cited for the suspensions are in fact pretextual, and the true motivation is to punish the child and/or his parents for not practicing a form of Christianity that is acceptable to the slack-jawed yokels running the school district.

MarcFebruary 2, 2015 5:46 PM

I want to play the skeptic here. Did this kid bring his favorite science book to school and disrupt the class by sitting in the back with his friends sniggering at the pictures of the girl parts? That seems like something applicable to the age. And it seems fair to get in trouble over.

Did the ring bearer's gullible friend get actually upset over being threatened with, um, invisibility? Did this disrupt the class? Is this kid routinely bullying other kids, however, laughably?

Yeah, I know, it's fun to pick on rural Texas, but this story is dripping with unvalidated one-side-of-the-story-ness. We may want it to be true because it's so laughable, but the logic side of me is thiking there has to be a more sane reasoning behind this.

Dirk PraetFebruary 2, 2015 7:09 PM

Anyone who has ever worked in policy management knows that there is a subtle difference between policies and procedures. Policies are guiding principles that are distilled into rules and procedures. Most rules also have exceptions. Policy management is not a one-time implementation but an ongoing exercise in enforcement, fine-tuning to fit ever-changing requirements and meeting the reality of everyday life. This is what many organisations fail at, and it looks like it's no different for the Kermit Independent School.

Unless there was a hidden agenda or other elements we don't know of, I'd say the punishment of expulsion is disproportionate with the threat of making another kid disappear by means of a replica One Ring. Even though the school may have had a perfectly valid policy against any form of threats, it's obvious that an inadequate procedure to deal with such events is defeating the policy's purpose for the simple reason that there was no real threat here.

Blind enforcement of rules and policies serves no purpose whatsoever. Common sense always needs to prevail, as in there being no point in ticketing someone for ignoring a stop sign in the middle of an abandoned desert.

Ole JuulFebruary 2, 2015 9:34 PM

The school obviously doesn't have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to bullying or the Principal would be in jail by now.

tyrFebruary 2, 2015 9:36 PM


Since it happened in Odessa it recalls the local
joke about people there are so narrow-minded
they suffer from bacteria, their tears run
down their back.

Apparently they haven't made it to the 20th
century either.

If you move around as a kid you'll suffer a lot
of culture shock as the incoming "foreigner"
even if you came from the next town because
of toxic regional biases. You'd think grownups
would defuse this crap instead of pandering
to the lowest common denominator.

Anytime someone claims they have no option as
it is policy which can't be changed you know
it's A) a lie B) flies in the face of human
behavior and there's an ulterior motive.

Beating people on the anvil of your ideology
causes untold human suffering before your
system fails catastrophically.

That kid needs to borrow my High school biology
book which has a picture of a human baby with
a tail to show his classmates after pretending
to be Sauron that would cap his reputation in
Odessa.

BozoFebruary 2, 2015 11:19 PM

Representative Ron Simmons


I remember spending a lot of time in the principal's office (most of us did)....even remember getting overs and "benefit of a doubt" from adults! And while it never occurred to me at the time, most of those schools would probably be labeled as gang infested today. Hell, fights were held every week at a certain place...tobacco and booze were rampant. If you've ever seen the movie American Graffiti, Porkies - it was kinda like that.


So what changed? Now we have incorrigible 9 yr olds? Whose teachers feint when they might wish to see females?


This kid won't even make it into high school or told to join the army? What will that cost us?

WinterFebruary 3, 2015 7:22 AM

@Anura
"But the teacher learned the popular children’s encyclopedia had a section on pregnancy, depicting a pregnant woman in an illustration, he explained."

Eh.

Are Texas children supposed to learn something in school? Or is the purpose to prevent them from learning anything useful?

Andrew_KFebruary 3, 2015 7:35 AM

I'd like to support Marc's point: We just know too little.

What happened makes great headlines if one spins it the right way ("Boy suspended from school for bringing a science book! Boy suspended for threatening another child with invisibility!"). That story sells. Spinning it the other way round, story of a bully being suspended -- that does not sell.

Thus: We do not know anything about what really happened. Maybe bully, maybe not. All I'd say is, the story probably is a bit more complex than currently known.

BryanFebruary 3, 2015 1:27 PM

The first time I ever got in trouble in school was my first day of fifth grade. The girl in front of me in line was a black girl named Carolyn White. I pointed out that her name was ironic. She took no offense, and even agreed with me, but the teacher that overheard was offended enough for the both of them.

pfoggFebruary 3, 2015 3:08 PM

Discretion can apply to the judgement (whether a rule was broken) or sentencing (what punishment applies). Judicial precedent, especially when "tests" are proposed and adopted or adjusted, is specifically intended to make decisions more consistent, and it's arguably successful, but sentencing can still depend a lot on which judge you get.

"Three strikes" rules and "zero tolerance" in court are intended to address sentencing (with debatable success), but "zero tolerance" as a school policy, by TSA functionaries, or for any analogous institutional enforcement policy, is zero tolerance in judgement, as in "it doesn't look like any rule was broken to me, but I have no say in the matter", and this causes much broader problems.

And it's hard to identify any benefit to anyone, except that it diffuses accountability across the institution.

pfoggFebruary 3, 2015 3:10 PM

Discretion can apply to the judgment (whether a rule was broken) or sentencing (what punishment applies). Judicial precedent, especially when "tests" are proposed and adopted or adjusted, is specifically intended to make decisions more consistent, and it's arguably successful, but sentencing can still depend a lot on which judge you get.

"Three strikes" rules and "zero tolerance" in court are intended to address sentencing (with debatable success), but "zero tolerance" as a school policy, by TSA functionaries, or for any analogous institutional enforcement policy, is zero tolerance in judgment, as in "it doesn't look like any rule was broken to me, but I have no say in the matter", and this causes much broader problems.

And it's hard to identify any benefit to anyone, except that it diffuses accountability across the institution.

BrianFebruary 3, 2015 4:16 PM

The butt-hurtness of elementary and high-school is real. I got my binder cut because I drew names of guns on my own binder in HIGHSCHOOL. They are idiots.

albertFebruary 3, 2015 8:57 PM

This sort of thing is endemic in school 'administrators' and gets much worse as grade levels increase:
.
https://www.popehat.com/2015/01/30/with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility-for-chip-mcgees-feelz-and-for-wombats/#comment-1309519
.
In colleges, it gets even better:
.
https://www.popehat.com/2014/09/06/u-c-berkeley-chancellor-nicholas-dirks-gets-free-speech-very-wrong/
.
These bureaucrats are getting six-figure salaries, too. God save our children; the schools ain't gonna do it. Tell your kids they're learning what NOT to to be when they grow up.
.
I won't resort to name-calling, though I am tempted.
.
I gotta go...

JMUFebruary 4, 2015 9:28 AM

Steward said the principal said threats to another child's safety would not be tolerated - whether magical or not.

It is less idiotic that it seems.

If the other child was really afraid of being made invisible or whatever, this is bullying. The threat need not be credible objectively to constitute bullying.

If someone gets scammed by a mail that says "send me $10 or I will bewitch you", he certainly is not very bright, but the scammer should not have a free pass. Neither should a drug firm that runs ads saying pill XXX helps reduce weight when it does not, even if they published the composition of the pill so that independant tests were run and published elsewhere.

Dirk PraetFebruary 4, 2015 11:47 AM

@ JMU

If the other child was really afraid of being made invisible or whatever, this is bullying. The threat need not be credible objectively to constitute bullying.

Which in my opinion still doesn't warrant suspension, unless the bully is a repeat offender previous sanctions had no effect on. Perhaps it would also be a great idea for the parents of the victim to explain to their gullible kid that movies are make-believe so he doesn't grow up to be someone who also believes that all muslims are evil and terrorists are an existential threat to our civilisation from watching too much Fox News.

VinnyGFebruary 5, 2015 3:37 PM

@Archon,

Exactly. There is no such thing as a true "zero tolerance policy". The term is a prime example of doublespeak. Q: when is the last time you read an article on an administrator or teacher who was punished for failing to enforce such a policy? The entire purpose is to preempt any personal criticism of an individual who (selectively) applies the policy.

applesFebruary 5, 2015 6:08 PM

@Winter

"Are Texas children supposed to learn something in school? Or is the purpose to prevent them from learning anything useful?"

Well, there was a flap a few years ago when a member of the Board of Education was unhappy at the thought of teaching critical thinking because it "undermined parental authority". The predictable reaction from the internet put paid to that idiocy (but probably only so far as those who think that way won't say it in public).

Then there was the kid suspended at 6 for "sexual assault" and this threatened as a permanent black mark on his school record (good luck getting into college) because he hugged his teacher (and thereby touched her 'chest'). His mother questioned how to explain this to her child because "he doesn't know what sexual assault is". Texas again.


@Anura

"If there is a problem, it wasn't that they called the kid "black." That is a perfectly acceptable term, preferred over "African American" by most black people in the world..."

Well I am English and we all thought during growing up (including black pupils at school, where this was discussed) that calling people 'black' or 'white' was labelling people purely according to skin colour and hence offensive and not acceptable at all! I hate to even think of using such terms. Now I'm in the US and thoroughly confused so I daren't say anything (uh, where are my free speech rights?).

AnuraFebruary 5, 2015 6:48 PM

@apples

Well, context matters. Yes it is appropriate to refer to someone as black in some contexts, inappropriate in others, but the term "black" in and of itself isn't offensive. I've heard sevaral anectdotes where white people were too afraid to refer to someone's skin color.

"Have you met my friend Jerry?"
"No."
"That's him, over there."
"Which one, there's like six people!"
"The one in the dark gray suit, but not the somewhat dark gray, the darker grey, but not the really dark gray or the black."
"Umm..."
"He's the one with the blue tie with dark blue stripes."
"Two of them have blue ties with dark blue stripes."
"No, one has a dark blue tie with blue stripes. He's the one on the left."
"Oh! Why didn't you just say he was the black guy?"

So no, black isn't an identity, but neither is tall, short, long-haired, blue-eyed, or brunette, yet all of the terms have uses.

Joker_vDFebruary 6, 2015 2:19 AM

"[...] the principal said threats to another child's safety would not be tolerated - whether real or not."
The next logical step. We must advance~

bobFebruary 6, 2015 3:33 PM

The term African American is nonsensical.

The only African I know was born in Zimbabwe, she is white. The black person I work with most has no African ancestry, only island nation.

So would Surya Bonaly be African French? If she moved here would she be African French American? American African French? Or do we drop adjectives after two and she is American French, thereby completely eliminating its utility as an identification tool.

Who is actually offended by being called "black" and why? I am not offended by being called "white" even though if I hold my hand up in front of a sheet of copier paper the difference is obvious.


AAAANonFebruary 9, 2015 10:39 AM

A_name says:

I am going to turn the principal into a toad!!! Come at me bro!


Too late! The principal has already been turned into a newt, he only looks human because he got better. The brains? - those stayed newt.

NathanaelFebruary 9, 2015 8:35 PM

Given the previous things for which this student has been harassed by the administration -- such as bringing an educational book to school -- this is almost certainly selective enforcement for the purposes of harassment. It's Texas so I'm not at all surprised.

I have cursed the Principal so that his immortal soul will rot in hell. So there. (In case nobody gets the joke, I don't believe in an afterlife.)

JimFebruary 14, 2015 9:09 AM

Lets not forget that in Texas, referencing the One Ring in any way is an offense that immediately puts you in the penalty box. Because fantasy is occult and 'dark' and 'un-Christian'. We are still in the dark ages down here folks. I have been lectured because my kids were reading books with dragons on the cover. In 2015.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 14, 2015 1:23 PM

@ Jim,

We are still in the dark ages down here folks. I have been lectured because my kids were reading books with dragons on the cover. In 2015

A friend moved over "down that way" from the UK and I warned them about picking their church with care etc, and initialy they did not belive me.

Any way after about six months he and his wife were begining to integrate with the local community. Then it all went wrong... his wife was at home one day doing some "home chores" and was wearing one of his old geek T-Shirts, when one of the older ladies from the church dropped around and left fairly quickly.

It was not till the following Sunday when they were shuned by just about the whole congregation that they found out it's realy none to wise to wear a BSD "devil" T-Shirt in that part of the "good old state", makes people think you are a satanist or some such. Especially when they hear you say "Oh that, it's the mascot of BSD eunuchs" as the first sentence of explanation...

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