School’s Zero Tolerance Policy Treats Words as Drugs

A student was foolish enough to 1) use drugs, 2) write about it in personal journal, and 3) lose the journal at her school.

As a result, the school authorities got hold of her personal notebook.


The school then, 1) punished the student as if she had been caught with drugs, and 2) refused to allow her father to see or read the journal because “as evidence” they claimed it was now their exclusive private property.

Tim Cushing recounts the story at the TechDirt blog.

Yes, the school went full cop on him, claiming the evidence was so secret it couldn’t even be seen by the legal guardian of the minor involved. The ten-day suspension has now been extended until January 2015, thanks to its “zero tolerance” drug policies, even though no actual drugs were involved. District Superintendent Robin Ritchie offered this deferral to policy by way of “explanation.”

“If they give a ten-day suspension it comes to me as the superintendent and then it is my decision to look back at it and see if an extended suspension is in order…our drug and alcohol policies permit for several different consequences that can be given out. And most of the time it’s 1 to 180 days that students can be suspended,” Ritchie said.

Apparently, in this case, the decision was to use the full 180 days, stretching from the original suspension in May to early 2015. Obviously, this will have a negative impact on the student’s hope of graduating on time, but the district has been less than helpful in ensuring the drugless drug violator will be able to stay on schedule.

There are other problems as well. It seems the student was interrogated about ever having possessed drugs on school property. During that interrogation, in which the father was not informed (on the basis again, of a notebook he is not permitted to read), she admitted to having had possession of marijuana for a short period of time and then ate it to get rid of the contraband. The father believes she made the admission to get the interrogation to stop. He wants to know why the school didn’t simply administer a drug test.

[See also, “Some Public Schools Can’t Handle the Truth.”]

The superintendent, while refusing to address specifics, says that the student’s written “drug possession” wouldn’t necessarily trigger a suspension and that the family could have been approached first about the theoretical drug problem. But the school didn’t do any of this and [superintendent] Ritchie’s noncommittal, non-specific statements back this up. She claims it all runs through her. So, the extended suspension, as well as the avoidance of less punitive actions, were OKed by her.

Devil’s advocate says that if the student truly had drugs in her possession, this would all have been uncovered much more quickly and never would have become another quickly-circulating example of stupid school administration behavior. But withholding the evidence from the parent, as well as the lack of other verification like a drug test, points to a zero tolerance hammer converting another student into a more compliant nail.

I hate teen use of marijuana because I want children to grow up to be productive and helpful people who support themselves and aid others. I think marijuana makes that less likely. But this school suspension is going to hurt this student’s future and her life chances far more than that “drug possession” that may be nothing more than words on a page.

School administrations are dangerous to our children’s health.