Zero tolerance? Or just what are schools expected to tolerate?

Over the weekend, David Jesse of The Ann Arbor News reported on the expulsion of a ten year old from a Michigan elementary school after a fight near the end of last school year, highlighting the difficult situations many public schools face as they struggle with how to educate and protect all of their students.

A ten year old started a fight with another youth which involved hitting and kicking on his first day at a new school…a move which was made because of problems at his previous school which had resulted in five suspensions and 23 missed days of school. It was hoped that a “new environment” would give him a new chance.

Sadly, I think this is rarely the case. Troubled children generally bring their troubles with them because the kinds of problems which lead to ten year olds threatening staff members and the safety of other students run much deeper than which peers they are hanging out with at the school they are enrolled in.

When I used to work with foster families here in Nebraska, one of the more common requests made by families was to have new foster children changed to new schools. Foster parents often saw negative peer influences as central to the child’s school behavior issues, and even to many of the difficulties they were having with the children in their home. Some caseworkers also saw placements as opportunities to rescue children from bad educational environments, and the children would be moved. Almost without exception, however, the youth merely found a similarly problematic peer group in the new school. As nice as a “fresh start” sounds, it is also true that no matter where in the world you go, you bring yourself…and your troubles…with you.

This ten year old started out his first day at his new school by swearing and flipping his middle finger at the teacher. At recess, he attacked another student, resulting ultimately in expulsion.

Expulsion isn’t always the best option for the expelled child. As Mark Fancher, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan says:

A kid with that much more free time is more vulnerable to influences leading them into trouble.

Jagers of U-M agreed.

“They find other kids who have been put out of school and they become delinquent together. They feed off each other.

“It’s a school-to-prison pipeline.” Ann Arbor News

At the same time, however, school districts cannot tolerate this kind of violent behavior in their schools. In fact, one of the most frequently cited reasons for homeschooling is to protect children from bullying in schools which is often not sufficiently addressed by school administrators. Without a basic sense of physical safety, children cannot learn in any environment. In the mean time, one more family has found a somewhat unique reason to homeschool. Felicia Hancock, the expelled ten year old’s mother, stated:

We’re trying to home-school him, but we ain’t no teachers.  Ibid

This child obviously needs help which the school district is not capable of handling, but somehow leaving the family to homeschool does not seem like the best option, either. And what of the mother’s pleas for help?  Her requests to the district to have her son evaluated for special services?

He has an anger problem. I know that. I wanted him to be tested (for special-education help), but they told me I didn’t want him to have that label, that it would follow him for 50 years.  Ibid

I am no fan of lables, but I am also no fan of turning a blind eye to children in need of help in order to avoid naming the very problems they and their families are experiences.  But what other options are there?  A child this violent cannot be maintained in the regular classroom, but do we simply discard ten year olds for fear of labeling?

And just why was this case used to question zero tolerance policies?  It’s not like the young man featured was expelled for cutting his lunch meat or making guns out of origami.


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23 Comments on "Zero tolerance? Or just what are schools expected to tolerate?"

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Mrs. C
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I dunno. It’s HER kid. Good luck to her. It’s possible that the child has some medical issues. It’s also possible that while she ain’t no teacher (nor yet grammarian – she said “AIN’T NO” for publication???), she may not be a good parent, either. Not being there, though, of course I can’t speak authoritatively on the subject. Just speculating. The article also makes a big deal out of the family being black, as though that somehow means the schools are racist in removing problem children. If 99 whites cause huge fights at school, 99 whites should be suspended. Same… Read more »
Christy
Guest
Wow! “…ain’t no teacher…” That says it all, huh? Since our kids have never been in an institutional school setting, I have no first hand experience, with bullying. (“Back in my day, we …” anyway…getting off track.)Seems to me that all the people(5) I’ve talked to in my small town that are pulling their kids out of school to homeschool, or send them to a private school, are doing so because of bullying or teaching to the test. I counseled a lady regarding homeschooling her son, entering the 6th grade, yesterday. She says her son and his friend were being… Read more »
Rebecca
Guest

He swore at and flipped off the teacher on the first day and still got to to go recess?!

Milehimama
Guest
I wouldn’t hold “ain’t no” against her. Many people actually do talk like that, even if they would never write it. What is more troubling is that she doesn’t seem to be able to do even the most rudimentary research – how is homeschooling going to ever work? All she has to do is request, in writing, a sp. needs evaluation. Obviously, the super-caring school has not told her that if she WRITES her request they are required by law to honor it within 30 days. My son has anger issues, too, and was helped immensely by a sp. ed.… Read more »
JJ Ross
Guest
I dunno, it’s her kid, good luck to her? (Not even “he” but “it” and then the gratuitous Made by McCain insult added to injury: “How dare he call ME the racist!”) I suppose if state and national governments actually ever took Mrs. C’s approach to its logical extreme, if such politics someday are imposed on all poor kids of all colors and all their ignorant, desperate moms, when we don’t have a whole phalanx of institutions armed at dear social cost, to attack and defeat on every front the twin enemies of Ignorance and Want, that *could* be the… Read more »
JJ Ross
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A topic of great passion for me! I just submitted a comment that did not appear, probably because it had links to other Michigan stories by this same reporter? Dana, could you fish it out of the filter for me?

Dana Hanley
Guest

Rebecca, that was my first thought, too. 🙂

And JJRoss, comments with links usually get held for moderation, but yours actually got swallowed by Akismet. That is not a fun place to fish for comments.

Dana Hanley
Guest
The race thing is a difficult one. On the one hand, our fixation on it seems racist on its own, but on the other hand, denying race’s role in society and in our lives denies a very important aspect of who we are. A “color blind” society is also not all we may make it out to be, any more than one which would deny my German-Irish heritage, the fact that I’m a woman or the fact that I am Christian. When I look at statistics like those brought out in the article…that this young man is poor, black and… Read more »
Dana Hanley
Guest

Oh, and while I smiled at the “ain’t no” against her, I don’t hold it against her. I hold it against the district that not all options have been explored and that special services are not being attempted, despite the mother’s request.

Dana Hanley
Guest

Even if he ends up in a closed, special ed environment, this isn’t the end for a child. One of the more interesting readings I had in my education courses was about an elementary school student who tied another child to a tree and burned him to death. And yet this, and the label, weren’t the end for the child. An exceptional teacher was just the beginning of a new life.

CircleReader
Guest
Thanks for your coverage of this, Dana. “The race thing is a difficult one. On the one hand, our fixation on it seems racist on its own, but on the other hand, denying race’s role in society and in our lives denies a very important aspect of who we are. A “color blind” society is also not all we may make it out to be, any more than one which would deny my German-Irish heritage, the fact that I’m a woman or the fact that I am Christian.” You said it! It’s difficulty is probably a sign of it’s importatnce.… Read more »
Peter
Guest
Christy. “The superintendent, I guess, gave them no assurances that the bullies would be dealt with.” This statement speaks to the very real issue; the majority reason why many of us homeschool “Schools, principals and teachers no longer have the authority to have these misbehavior’s dealt with.” This fact leads to more violent and repressive environments including tolerance for evil, guards, detectors etc. Rebecca. “He swore at and flipped off the teacher on the first day and still got to to go recess?!” When I went through school the teachers had the authority to deal with these behavior’s. I challenged… Read more »
Peter
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Dana

“I’ve seen these programs heavily criticized because what role does the state have in “training” parents, but who else is stepping in to assist?”

Hey, our church just spent $50 million dollars on a new construction project. We have no time or resources to walk where Jesus walked, got bills to pay. Sure you understand. By the way, our newly elected representative has some great ideas on this subject.

Susan Ryan
Guest
The description of the boy’s expulsion hearing explains a lot about what doesn’t work in a crazy bureaucracy called public school. This boy had no voice in his defense right from the start. Except when he’s facing a school board and other strangers who will decide his future. ..sheesh.. The mother is looking to the school to help when the ‘school system’ had already failed her son in reading and writing. But as noted, she doesn’t know where else to get help. I hope local homeschoolers read this article and attempt to take her (and family) under their wing, as… Read more »
Mrs. C
Guest

Oh, wow. And here I steered away from calling the child a “boy” because I was concerned someone would take THAT as racist. Perhaps I should have called him “her child?” But really… the point I was *trying* to make is that such focus on race, in my personal opinion, only serves to reinforce negative stereotypes.

You can disagree if you want, but my refusing to want to label each child and family by race and socioeconomic status speaks more to my political views on the role of government in education and other areas than race.

Dana Hanley
Guest
I hear what you are saying, Mrs. C. 🙂 To me, the whole discussion comes in part from an oversensitivity to the issue for some and its overuse by others. I’m tired of hearing that Obama may not get elected because America isn’t ready for a black president rather than dealing with the reality that a lot of us just don’t think he would make a good president for the same reasons we didn’t think Gore or Kerry would have regardless of skin color. But at the same time, the issues this family face are related directly to their socioeconomic… Read more »
JJ Ross
Guest
Just a brief addendum to Dana’s comment — as a nonpartisan, I also didn’t think Gore or Kerry would make good presidents (nor George Bush) so I understand where some of you are left THIS year, with no inspiring choices. But I don’s see Obama as just the next in line with them. And for a change, for me, for once, I do have high hopes this time, and I personally pin those hopes on Obama, specifically because of his March 2008 race speech. That’s when and why I made up my own mind to care this year. I won’t… Read more »
CircleReader
Guest

@Susan Ryan #14:

“I’ve sent along a local homeschool resource page and a ‘give me a call’ to our high school office. With pushouts and dropouts reaching record highs in schools, it can only help our community and society to not have ‘emergency’ homeschoolers floundering.”

Excellent! Has anyone ever taken you up on your offer?

Dana Hanley
Guest

My spam filter should actually allow one link. I’m still baffled as to why it rejected you so soundly after you’ve been allowed to post so long. 🙂 I may have to start watching what goes into the spam filter rather than just the moderation queue but that thing catches over a thousand comments a week. I would like to read some other blogs sometimes. 🙂

Rebecca
Guest
I was mulling this discussion over this morning while walking the dog. I really like Susan’s suggestion that homeschoolers be more proactive about reaching out to pushouts and dropouts — “emergency homeschoolers”, and her idea of providing a resource page to the school office. I also wonder, if a school accepts the enrollment of a student who has left his previous school due to repeated offenses and expulsions, shouldn’t they do so “with eyes open” so to speak and a *plan in place* to help ensure that the “change of environment” brings about a change in the child? Such a… Read more »