Well, America, it's happened. The zero tolerance and "one size fits all" punishments in American high schools have turned legally prescribed acne medicines for a kid with a little bit of a zit problem into heroin. Quite a leap?
Tell that to the administrators in Fairfax, Virginia, who suspended Hayley Russell for seven weeks for keeping erythromycin, a pretty common antibiotic, in her locker. Seven weeks! I don't know about you, but I hear seven weeks of suspension, and I'm thinking some pretty hard core stuff went down:
Heroin possession. Graffiting the walls of the gym with "Ms. Smith Sux Donkey Nutz" (note the misspellings, it would seem apropos of a kid getting a seven-week suspension, don't you think?). Screwing the whole cheerleading squad in the gym under the graffiti while the kindergarten watches.
But forgetting to report your antibiotic prescription to the school nurse? Doesn't exactly equate, does it?
It seems Hayley Russell, a pretty regular teenager who the Washington Post reports even copped immediately to the meds once she was caught, and apologized for what she said was a simple oversight, was caught up in the new American way of disciplining kids. We treat them all like criminals. All of them.
She's like Jack Szablewski, the 4-year-old suspended from school for growing out his hair to donate to Locks of Love (in honor of his grandfather's battle of cancer). She's like Christian Summers, the 11-year-old boy suspended for farting on a school bus (aka being 11). She's like Zachary Christie, the 6-year-old suspended for bringing a knife/fork/spoon combo to school to eat his lunch.
These are the sort of cases that zero tolerance has given us America. Not safer schools but kids who are terrified to color outside the lines and kids who have lost the ability to just be kids.
My 5-year-old was frantic a few days ago when I stuck a few miniature candy bars in her lunchbox, the leftovers from her Valentine's stash. I thought I was giving her a treat, until her eyes went wide that I was going to get her in trouble because "we can't have candy for snack." Next to the lean turkey on wheat bread, the organic fruit purees that she loves, and a BPA-free container full of water, I thought it was a mother's right to give her kid two Snickers miniatures. That my lunchpacking skills were being questioned angered me as a mother, but her reaction made me see red. We're scaring 5-year-olds now? Over a piece of chocolate? That HER MOTHER packed?
So Hayley Russell was a 13-year-old girl who forgot to report her acne medicine to the school nurse. Not unfathomable. I'm a mother of a 5-year-old with a professional job and a mortgage who was halfway to the grocery store last Saturday when I realized I'd forgotten to brush my teeth. S--t happens.
What happened to treating kids as individuals rather than criminals, addressing those individual instances, and finding if they are indeed at wrong, creating punishments that fit the crime? A kid with a legally prescribed acne medicine is not a drug dealer any more than my 5-year-old is a criminal because I didn't realize she "can't have candy for snack." But until we get rid of zero tolerance and back to "every kid has his or her own story," every kid is on the path to destruction. It just takes one mistake.
What do you think of zero tolerance policies?
Image via epsos.de/Flickr