Zero Tolerance Used to Oppressed 11-Year-Old

Dan CaseyOne of the best things that John Belushi ever did on Saturday Night Live was a commentary about voting on Weekend Edition. The joke was, as always, that Belushi got totally carried away. But his reasoning was valid: the drug laws are ridiculously harsh. And he mentioned that there were people doing a decades in Texas prisons because someone found a cannabis seed on them. That’s still largely true. But nowhere is the total overreaction to drug use so extreme as it is in our schools where “educators” are only too proud of the “zero tolerance” programs.

To get a good idea of just how ridiculous such programs are, consider Bedford Middle School in Virginia. They aren’t messing around! That’s why they had to destroy an 11-year-old’s life. You see, he brought what looked like a cannabis leaf to school. He showed it to some of his fellow students. Someone ratted him out. Or at least, that’s what the school maintains; the boy claims this isn’t true; but that is the worst case for what he did: he was pretending that he had a tiny leaf from a plant that has been wrongly vilified in this country for decades. He was not only suspended for a year from school, but the administration handed the kid over to the police so that they too could bring their power to bear on destroying the young boy’s life. There was just one problem: it wasn’t a cannabis leaf. As you are probably aware, there are a lot of plants with leaves that look like cannabis. In fact, people joke about it all the time.

When a police officer came out to the school, she did a field test on the leaf — three times. It indicated that the leaf was not, in fact, cannabis — three times. But she arrested the boy anyway. She also swore to a magistrate that the boy was in possession of the illegal plant. And the school, of course, never thought twice — much less three times. The boy had to go. I’m sure in their mind, the very idea that the boy would claim that the leaf was cannabis is enough to damn the rest of his life. Zero tolerance! Am I right?!

After the police dropped the charges for lack of evidence, the boy’s parents, Linda and Bruce Bays, asked the school to rehear the case. But the school wouldn’t do it, claiming, “The court system and the school system were two different entities.” They don’t need no stinkin’ evidence! The school also required that this 11-year-old be evaluated for a substance abuse problem. It’s funny that our society has totally bought into the 12-step cult as a “cure” for drug addiction. But the founders of the 12-step movement would have thought the idea of an 11-year-old drug addict ridiculous.

Regardless, a pediatric psychiatrist found that the boy didn’t have a drug problem, but he was suffering from depression and anxiety as a result of the humane approach of this school’s “zero tolerance” program. After the psychiatrist recommended that the best thing was for the boy to go back to school, the administration relented and he was scheduled to return this week. But he will be on probation until the year is up on the suspension that they gave to him. Meanwhile, the Bays are suing the school and the sheriff’s department.

As expected, the school is arguing that even if the leaf wasn’t the real thing, just the idea that it was justified their actions. The Bays’ lawyer had a very good, although not necessarily legally powerful counter to that, “If the school argues now that they were justified in suspending him for possession of lookalike marijuana, that’s disingenuous because they’ve never argued that prior to the suit being filed.” Indeed. And regardless, the school is supposed to protect children, not abuse them.

The Bays think that their son was set up by a couple of boys who don’t like him. That’s certainly possible. But even if the kid is totally guilty, so what? In his report in The Roanoke Times, Dan Casey added a personal experience of his own:

Back when I was in the sixth grade, I did something similar. I scratched the raised letters BAYER off an aspirin and told another student it was LSD. I think my parents ended up getting a phone call from the school. When they asked me about it later, I told them it was a joke. That was true.

There were no consequences because this happened in 1969, long before an anti-drug fervor had gripped this nation to such an extent that school drug policies covered schoolboy pranks.

Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about. How is the behavior of the school — regardless of its guidelines that were not developed in a rational manner, anyway — helpful to the process of protecting all the children at Bedford Middle School, much less the Bays’ son? Clearly, it doesn’t. They not only thought a year’s suspension was appropriate, they thought that giving an 11-year-old a felony was a good idea. And for what? Because he brought to school a single non-dried leaf of something that looked like Cannabis sativa? It’s outrageous. They should all be fired and never allowed around a child again. But of course that won’t happen.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

2 thoughts on “Zero Tolerance Used to Oppressed 11-Year-Old

  1. I don’t know what was worse, calling the cops on a possible cannabis bust or having the cop show up and not know that the leaf in question wasn’t cannabis without even testing it. This backwoods middle school’s zero tolerance rules reflect the extremism to which our ridiculous drug laws have carried us.

    I’m guessing the eleven year old in question isn’t white or if he is, his parents aren’t affluent or powerful enough to have the administration find a way out of this without ruining their kid’s life. The school board should reexamine its stance on zero tolerance and make it reflect reality and not the political hysteria of the times.

    • I don’t know about the race. His parents are school techers. They aren’t rich, but they have enough money to be dangerous. If they had nothing, I suspect the kid would not be back at school. I don’t see the school board rethinking anything, which is why I hope they end up having to pay some money. Pain is a good motivator. But after all these years, I’ve learned to expect little.

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