Colorado Schools Rolling Back “Zero Tolerance” (via Free-Range Kids)

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Hi Balkons! It’s Lenore Skenazy from Free-Range Kids here, happy to report that Colorado is officially rolling back its Zero Tolerance policy — the policy that, for instance, gave a school no choice but to expel a girl who brought a fake rifle to school. She was on her way to drill team practice with the Young Marines, but was treated like a terrorist.

Let’s hope that other states notice what Colorado is doing. It isn’t giving mayhem a free pass. It’s restoring common sense to schools where it had been sucked out by bureaucracy, fear and the shadow of Columbine. If you wonder how far Zero Tolerance can go, here are a few stories from my site:

Boy, 6, Suspended for Nerf Gun

Boy Suspended for Lighter He Found on His Way to School

Zero Tolerance Gets a Third Grader and His Knife Expelled

Plenty more where these come from. Just go to Free Range Kids and search for “Zero Tolerance.” But be sure you’ve taken your blood pressure medication first. — L.

Another era: Marksmanship practice at L.A.'s Roosevelt High, 1942

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25 Responses to “Colorado Schools Rolling Back “Zero Tolerance” (via Free-Range Kids)”

  1. #1 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    And then there’s St. Trinian’s;

    As I’ve said a time or two before; Zero Tolerance is a bureaucrat’s wet dream. It grants Authority without responsibility. I’m delighted to see that the parents of Colorado have decided to remind the school administrators that the school staff work for the public and not the other way around.

  2. #2 |  Other Sean | 

    I have mixed feelings.

    On the one hand, zero tolerance policies are a morally outrageous perversion of justice born of the same cynical impulse that always seeks an expansion of state power in the aftermath of moral panics and disastrous events.

    On the other hand, this just means that a few more kids will get to spend more of their lives in public school, without the liberating hope of escape by suspension or expulsion. That’s hardly a blessing for them.

  3. #3 |  Mattocracy | 

    The problem with zero tolerance is that it was spawned from litigation-happy parents. At the end of the day, a parent can’t file a lawsuit when their kid brings a butter knife to school since they have it clearly spelled out in their conduct policies.

    A parent can file lawsuit if they feel like their child is unsafe when they find out a classmate swiss army knife their backpack. Unfortunately, the parent will win in the latter scenario. These parents are the real problem. We can bad mouth stupid bureaucrat administrators all day long, but this shit didn’t just appear out of a vacuum.

    While I appreciate the fact that sane parents are fighting back against zero tolerance policies and winning, I wish they would look at their own and realize that it takes just a handful of parents to bring out the absolute worst behavior from school admins.

  4. #4 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 


    I agree, up to a point. While there are a LOT of different causes for the Public Education mess, one of the worst symptoms is that the unspoken agreement between parents and teachers (the one that, once upon a time, pretty much ensured that if a teacher clocked you one in school your parents would slap the other side when you got home on general principles) is broken. Parents don’t trust teachers to keep discipline, or to keep their children safe. And I see no way to rebuild that trust short of some form of vouchers, so that when somebody makes an unreasonable demand the school can say “Sorry this school didn’t meet your needs, here’s your pro-rated refund. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

  5. #5 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Zero tolerance is an attempt to take discretion out of the hands of school staff, thereby relieving them of the necessity to think. Thinking is increasingly discouraged in schools, you know.

    Zero tolerance in anything is almost always a bad idea. It condenses the immense flexibility and processing power of the human brain into a simple IF-THEN statement. It’s like making stupidity your life’s mission.

  6. #6 |  Dave Krueger | 

    I like the picture. Girls with guns are hot. And it was taken in a much simpler time in our history when almost everything was black and white (pun intended).

  7. #7 |  Dwight Brown | 

    I rather like that photo as well.

    Does anyone know what gun she’s shooting? I’m a gun guy, but I don’t recognize it. I’m assuming it is a .22 of some sort.

  8. #8 |  marie | 

    Zero tolerance in anything is almost always a bad idea. It condenses the immense flexibility and processing power of the human brain into a simple IF-THEN statement. It’s like making stupidity your life’s mission.

    Yes. See also, mandatory minimum sentences.

  9. #9 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Dave Krueger,

    I think you give the administrators too much credit. What they want is the power to punish pretty much any child in their power without the personal responsibility for making that decision. The policy may say ‘zero tolerance’, but we know perfectly well that they are only using it when they feel like it. Then they get to punish the child, while blaming the decision on ‘policy’.

  10. #10 |  Dave Krueger | 

    There’s an inherent problem with public schools that forces this discussion into the realm of confusion when it comes to the libertarian perspective. Everyone knows that the public school system eliminates choice for parents, but it also eliminates options for school administrators who are required to take every applicant and must formulate rules that apply to all kids in a way that satisfies the least common denominator when it comes to parents. So, it’s true that they are going to look for shortcuts that allow them to treat all infractions very simplistically and uniformly across all students.

    The alternative would be private schools where school administrators could use common sense for a given situation and have some confidence that their judgement carries some authority. If the parents don’t like it, they can send their kids elsewhere. The incentive to maintain discipline while still attracting customers is absent in public schools, so politics prevails. Anytime you replace free market processes with political controls, you’re going to get idiocy like this.

  11. #11 |  Bergman | 

    School principals are paid a higher salary than teachers because the job requires the exercise of sound judgment and the ability to make fair decisions.

    Zero-Tolerance policies remove any discretion from principals, such that a computer program could do their jobs adequately, since decisions are reduced to Action A results in Punishment B followed by Expulsion C.

    We could save quite a bit of money by reducing how much we pay school principals in ZT areas or simply eliminating the position entirely. Use the money to hire more teachers and reduce class sizes.

  12. #12 |  Ken Hagler | 

    When I went to high school in the 1980s you could still see things like that picture, albeit with different fashions, and people routinely carried pocket knives. (Fortunately this was done without Schofield’s mutual child abuse agreement.)

    The school mandatory bigotry policies are really very recent.

  13. #13 |  Warren | 

    It only makes sense. Zero tolerance depends on the assumption that every situation is black and white, with no grey area. Life is not like that anywhere. So it only seems logical that the rules reflect real life.

  14. #14 |  H. Rearden | 

    There was no rifle team in my rural high school (class of ’90). My current local school still has a rifle team. I imagine they still shoot live rounds. I’ll have to check it out when my boys get older. But is that photo for real? Rifle practice in the halls of the school?

  15. #15 |  Ken Hagler | 

    I learned to shoot a rifle inside a classroom, using expensive German air rifles and extremely small targets. A hallway is not unreasonable.

  16. #16 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Dave Krueger,

    I have opinions about what is wrong with the whole Public School system, and about teachers’ unions, and about local control, but the longer I watch this train wreck the more I think that what is really going on is simpler.

    Any system involving humans calcifies over time. The public school system could have been the very best of all possible systems at the start, and it would still have silted up. I say this because, while I think the best possible solution is the widespread use of vouchers and the effective breaking of the public school monopoly, I expect that whatever solution is put into place will ALSO calcify over time. We aren’t going to find a permanent solution, and if we try we will assuredly only hasten the calcification of whatever we put in place by making the solution we adopt needlessly rigid.

    I think that, if we examine them closely, we will find that a lot of the problems we see in the Federal and State governments are more a result of this same calcification than any evil on anybody’s part. Which doesn’t make me any happier with empire-builders, power-mongers, and rules-rats.

  17. #17 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #16 C. S. P. Schofield,

    The solution to calcification is the freedom to come up with a better idea that eventually pushes out the calcified system. A good example of that is the auto industry which was ultimately forced to improve by the invasion from Japan. It would have happened faster had not the government thrown up as many obstacles as it could to protect the calcified American auto industry from competition.

  18. #18 |  UvalDuvalCuckoo | 

    CSP . there’re obviously several reasons for the contract being breached – parents are exceedingly neurotic and obnoxious today (b/c so many live vicariously through their kids). But as a parent who’s wife insisted on our daughter going to public school, I don’t trust the teachers to do much of anything. We live in the bible belt and there are so many problems with teachers preaching to kids and beating Jesus down their throats (they do it in a very evil way to etting kids to team up on the non-believers without ever overtly saying anything that clearly crosses the line). The Education depts of modern colleges are in the words of Thomas Sowell, the sewers of academia. I agree with your assessment completely, but the reasons the contract no longer exists are many.

  19. #19 |  Dan | 

    Balkons — hope it sticks…

  20. #20 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @2 – Yes, you’ll have fewer workers with severely reduced career prospects and be forced to raise the wages you pay. Shame, shame!

    @10 – “Everyone knows that the public school system eliminates choice for parents”

    Why yes, it forces them to educate those pesky kids, in general. The alternative would be private schools educating the rich, and the poor going to “general” schools run by a few well-meaning charities in which far less is taught on a shoestring budget, ending years earlier.

    As history shows us.

    @16 – Why yes, only people who are willing to knife each other in the back for pennies like good capitalists should be allowed near kids. How dare teachers talk to each other!

    Never mind the actual issues, you have to ensure wages fall.

  21. #21 |  Morgan | 

    @6 – Those girls were being taught to shoot rifles during WWII on the Pacific Coast, when there was real fear of invasion from a Pacific Rim country that had already attacked the U.S. by air. This is the real meaning of “a well regulated militia,” as stated in the Second Amendment.

  22. #22 |  Mattocracy | 

    Hurray, Leon showed up to be an asshole. Thanks for changing everyone’s minds by by misinturpting everyone’s arguments and then adding stinging class warfare hyperbole. Way to go troll.

  23. #23 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @22 – Yes, I’m not someone trying to suppress wages and punish the poor for existing like Corporatist, Stateist Capitalists like you, who decry things while working hard to ensure they continue.

    Cry me a river. I understand your “WAGES MUST FALL” arguments perfectly, and the class war is very much yours, you keep insisting it applies to everything for a reason.

  24. #24 |  Mattocracy | 

    I’m a corporatist, a statist, and a capitalist all at the same time? Are you even a grown up? Or are you just making shit up about people without really knowing so we fit into your neat little definitions.

    That’s what I thought.

  25. #25 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @24 – That you think they don’t go together is downright funny.

    Keep on trying to suppress any views other than own, like a good little totalitarian.