Policy makes victims of ones meant to protect

Published 9:36 am Friday, April 25, 2014

Guest Column by Alexis Johnson

When students fail out of school, we blame it on bad parenting, drugs and adolescent ignorance. Schools failing students is one issue never quite focused upon heavily. The appearance of the school is more important than the underlying issues causing some students to slip through the cracks.

Alexis Johnson

Alexis Johnson

Alyssa Drecher was subjected to the zero-tolerance policy at United South Central High School in Wells. She is a high school junior on the honor roll and active in local sports. She was working with her boyfriend over the weekend on his farm using a small pocket knife to cut twine off of bales of hay.

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The next Tuesday the local police department was carrying out a routine locker search where upon the K-9 unit got a hit on Alyssa’s locker. The officer on scene explained that the dog had gotten a hit on her perfume, only to find the small knife in the bottom of her purse.

She was then suspended for three days. The superintendent, Dr. Jerry Jensen, decided that now was an excellent time to make an example out of the situation. His intent was to make it clear the zero tolerance means zero tolerance.

This policy has now allowed an otherwise outstanding student to now face a one-year expulsion. This would not allow her to graduate with her class this next year. Do I believe that we should have no sort of policy to protect students from those wishing to cause them harm, but this zero-tolerance policy does not allow any clemency to lesser offenders.

Schools are meant to educate our students rather than to stifle their freedoms and passions. This will take away an 11-year academic career that is otherwise pristine and diminish her collegiate options dramatically. Protesters were threatened with suspension and, according to seniors, their diplomas will be withheld if they attended the protest that held Monday.

This experience could have been used as a teaching method but rather that opening up discussion about the Constitution, students were threatened with suspension and seniors having their diplomas withheld. This imprudent approach to education really misses out on key life moments. We are constantly discussing our desire to prepare our students for the future, but we fail to make the connection that if we truly wish to achieve that goal we must allow our students to live.

Having a zero-tolerance policy does not allow for any error, and trial and error is the foundation from which young minds grow. More lessons are remembered that are experienced rather than expressed. This young girl made a mistake, but the punishment should also fit the crime committed.

If young minds are crying out toward the injustice of this treatment, we should listen. They are the voices, faces and hopes of all of our future. Teaching our future leaders to stand up for what they believe in is a powerful message, and while the school’s intent is to protect our children when a problem arises, we should reevaluate the system.

If we want to prevent weapons from entering our schools, we need to put up metal detectors. Otherwise all zero-tolerance policies end up only becoming relevant ex post facto; policies that will only punish the students after they carry out a violent act. This forces students who truly were victims of circumstance facing the same treatment as the students meaning to bring harm. The very students we are trying to protect are the ones who end up suffering.

A new form of bullying has emerged where students place knives into the lockers of so-called “nerds.” They then tip off administrators, who are “forced” to punish the student who had the weapon in the locker. Whether common sense dictates that this person is innocent or not, a no-tolerance policy requires school to punish anyone with a weapon in their possession. This problem will soon affect a student near you.

The question is, will you take a stand now or later because having a zero-tolerance policy where students’ lives are involved is simply overlooking all of the possible situations that may occur. So as problems arise we must simply reevaluate our rules and regulations to accommodate what will best serve the greatest number of people.


Alexis Johnson is a Wells resident, second-year student at Riverland Community College and a 2013 graduate of United South Central High School.