Middle schoolers are not best known for their critical thinking and ability to based decisions on predicted consequences. This makes schools with zero-tolerance drug policies a tough sell for me at this age level–especially with that zero-tolerance extends to even ‘pretend’ versions of the drug in question.
From Raw Story, a sixth grader in Roanoke, Virginia received a full year’s suspension for allegedly showing up to school and bragging about having a leaf of marijuana and a lighter in his backpack that he claimed to have gotten from a high schooler. The leaf was swiftly seized by the school liaison officer–it was a fresh leaf, albeit slightly crumpled from spending an unknown number of hours in an 11-year-old’s backpack, and not the dried variety typically associated with reefer madness. The leaf got sent on for testing, and the liaison officer filed criminal charges for possession.
Just one issue though: three separate field tests indicated that the leaf was not, in fact, pot. The prosecutor dropped the juvenile court charges when it turned out the only thing the boy possessed was an outstanding lack of common sense (not an unusual crime at age 11, and definitely not a jail-worthy one). The school, however, didn’t change the suspension–because under the zero-tolerance policy, the possession of ‘lookalike’ fake drugs is treated exactly the same as having the real thing.
The boy, who maintains to his parents that he doesn’t know how the leaf got into his backpack and never showed it off to other students (which is probably what you’d say too if you were an 11-year-old caught dead to rights doing something like this), was supposed to attend the district’s alternative school during his suspension. Since this is where students with actual drug (or violent) offenses on their record go, he was allowed to instead attend the school’s online curriculum, at least as long as he maintained decent grades while doing so. His parents say it was the threat of the alternative school hanging over his head that distracted him from his online education and caused him to fail; at least speaking for myself I’d have a hard time focusing on algebra when World of Warcraft is two clicks away.
The boy will be returning to his former school today, under advice from the psychiatrist who originally started seeing him to evaluate him for a substance abuse problem and who’s now treating his depression; he’ll be under probation for the remainder of his original suspension period. It’s good that he’s back in school, but it’s hard to see how a dumb middle school joke merits a year’s suspension. And it raises the question: what is the goal of school discipline, exactly? If it’s to get rid of offenders and derail their education in the long-term or permanently, then by all means. But if it’s intended to provide appropriate consequences to help kids develop their own intrinsic sense of right and wrong while keeping them on the path to their future … let’s go ahead and call this one a swing and a miss.
(Image: sarra22 / Getty)