Stronger Than Brain


Reader David Straub points us to this report on Amanda Stiles, the high school sophomore in Bossier Parish, LA who has been expelled for having Advil in her purse.

Call me a relentlessly sunny optimist, but whenever I hear these zero tolerance horror stories, I always figure there must be something more to it—a dispute about whether the stuff was really Advil, a punch thrown during the search, even a prior record or a long-simmering feud between the student and the principal—anything that would suggest there's something more to the insanity than just, well, insanity. No such luck:

Superintendent Ken Kruithof said after the board meeting that the school system is following a state law that requires a one-year expulsion and being consistent in the system's "zero-tolerance" policy.

That, by the way, was a board meeting where the vote was unanimous to uphold Stiles' expulsion after her mother challenged the decision. So a group of adults with open eyes decided expelling a teenager for Advil possession was good pedagogic practice.

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  1. Z-T policies are a panacea for lawsuit-fearful bureaurcrats – everyone gets treated equally (like crap). Since everyone is getting treated equally, they are not so likely to get sued because they treated 2 people differently.

    It also abdicates them of the need to think, which is also a good thing (in their perspective)

  2. I hope the expelled student sues. This is patently ridiculous.

  3. There’s only one way to deal with this. Every student should come to school with advil. Maybe prominently displayed, such as in the form of necklaces. What are they going to do, expel every single student?

  4. The article that I read said that a teacher aproached several students to invetigate alleged tobacco smoking. The girl fled into a bathroom where
    the teacher searched her purse finding only the Advil. My take is that the “drug” was a punishable offense, while the fleeing and failure to obey the authority are the true offense, but one not as readily punished.

  5. Mark, that’s a brilliant idea. Unfortunately the first one would be treated very roughly pour encourager les autres, but it would be beautiful to see done. Perhaps the students in Goose Creek, SC, could do it, if there’s a similar law there.

  6. Like Dan said, the article mentions that she was searched because a teacher thought she had been smoking, and the parent alluded she had gotten into some sort of minor trouble before, nothing all that big, but maybe something just big enough to earn her an enemy. (e.g. she once got a detention for the fairly minor offense of being late to class, and her attitude rubbed some authority figure the wrong way, or some similar thing)

    So maybe, contrary to Tim’s suggestion, there was more to this. Not that it would justify the expulsion, but it would at least explain the expulsion. It would become a mundane case of somebody pulling out a technicality to punish a student that he/she doesn’t like. Nothing good, but nothing all that new or shocking either.

  7. One other thing: When I was in high school (a mere 9 years ago) a girl in my math class had a really bad headache. My math teacher left a bottle of aspirin or advil or whatever on his desk and said “Sometimes I’m a little careless where I leave things. I trust that all of you would never, ever take advantage of something that I accidentally leave out. Now I have to run to the office for a quick little errand, and I assume that when I get back nobody will tell me that some pills were taken.”

    The girl got her pain relief, the teacher never witnessed the violation, and we got a minute or two to chat amongst ourselves instead of studying math. All around a pretty good deal.

  8. Even if the girl had done something to anger the teacher, that wouldn’t explain why the board unanimously voted for expulsion. Not unless she managed to individually piss off every board member, which would be quite an accomplishment.

  9. Mona, I’m sorry for your loss, and very impressed by your ability to analyze the causes in such a reasonable manner.

  10. We were allowed to smoke in our cafeteria in a catholic high school in NYC. The rational was it was better to see who was doing what then to inculculate an atmosphere of secrecy.

    Every night for the past two years or so I have added “Thank you, God, for not making me a southerner.”

    Really, what other region in the country is so filled with elected officials of such low intelligence and judgement? Either stupidity or corruption is all you hear about from those states. besides slavery and german shenanagans in WW1, I wish Lincoln had left the bastards leave in peace!

  11. Given that one of the driving social “concerns” that led to the development of public high schools was the desire to corral and contain a certain age group in a central location where they could be monitored and kept out of mischief, it is unusual that schools now seem to delight in kicking students out.

    Let no one ever accuse school administrators and teachers in general of putting the best interests of kids first – or of even liking kids very much.

    The sooner we dismantle the current system of lower education, the better.

  12. Tom from Texas–

    Not all teachers are uncaring jerks. I taught high school for three years, but got fired after my third year. (The principal had to either give me tenure or say good-bye.) I can’t say for certain why I was let go, but I have a few theories:

    1. The school decided to reduce smoking in the student bathrooms by taking the doors off the stalls. I was opposed to this, and got my low-level class of seniors interested enough in writing to write letters to the school board explaining why they should get the doors back. Or at least I tried to–the administration heard about my assignment and nixed it.

    2. I also opposed the school’s plan to make breathalyzer tests mandatory for all extra activities (dances, sports games, etc.) or at least suggested that teachers be required to take them too, to set a good example. I got called into the principal’s office on that one.

    3. Then there’s the school policy that students with low ggrades lose their parking privileges. Some of my students lived out of town–if they couldn’t drive to school, they couldn’t get to school. I pointed out that keeping kids away from school is not the best way to increase their grades, and said “If we want the kids to respect authority, we should show them authority deserves respect.” Three weeks later I lost my job.

    So I stuck my neck out, didn’t change anything for the kids, AND lost my job. If I get another school next year I plan to keep my head down and my mouth shut until I get tenure. It’s not that teachers don’t care about the kids–it’s that we have no power to help them anyway.

  13. How could a student manage to ‘individually
    piss off every member of the board’?
    Simple — by being a student.
    Compounding the offense, the young lady in question opened the board up to controversy and the uncomfortable position of standing between student rights and state authority.
    ‘Pissed off’? I imagine they were effing *livid*.

    Shirley Knott

  14. Hopefully, she will homeschool for the next year and never go back. Every kid out of the system is agood thing.

  15. In 1996, my since-deceased son was expelled from his high school in Niles, Michigan for having been caught for the second time with an unlit nicotine cigarette on campus. At this time, and after an extended period of having fucked off, he had settled down and was on the honor roll and tutoring others.

    The zero tolerance policy took all hope from him; he concluded he could never be “good enough” for the powers that be. Within a year he died as a passenger in a vehicle driven reckelssly by a loser friend.

    We’ve gone from anthems to “smokin’ in the boys room” to expelling kids for possessing a Camel, because nicotine, doncha know, is a “drug.” While I have been militantly opposed to the drug war since the late 80s, I am now even more fanatical on the issue; opposing prohibition is nearly a religion with me.

  16. Caffine is a drug TOO.

    And chocolate has cannibinoids. And poppy seeds for God’s sake.

    This policy is not being taken near far enough.

  17. County school officials in Florida should consider adopting the same zero-tolerance policy as Bossier Parish. Right now, the ballot mandate to reduce clas sizes is runing up against state education cuts and the governor’s “Starve the Beast” fiscal policy, making it hard to build more schools and add more teachers.

    The county school boards are doing everything they can to cut the number of enrolled students. The’re slashing graduation requirements, making 12th grade optional, reverting to half-day kindergarten, and making all sorts of other innovations. Doing sweeps and expelling all the students caught with vitamins, pain relievers, cigarettes or mentholated throat lozenges would reduce class sizes on the cheap.

  18. Caffine is a drug TOO.

    And chocolate has cannibinoids. And poppy seeds for God’s sake.

    This policy is not being taken near far enough.

    Exactly. Hit the teachers lounge with a digital camera and get the “caffheads” in all their glory. The administration offices too. Betcha there’s an Advil or two there. Demand immediate dismissal of all teachers/administrators found in possesion of a mood altering/pain suppressing substance. How do we expect the kids to behave if they see their teachers all hopped up on aspirin and caffiene? And after all, the policy is zero tolerance…

    …apparently with blind disregard to the usage or legality.

  19. Mona: I am very sorry for your loss. 🙁 I too am a militant anti-prohibitionist … sometimes a very lonely position I must say. I take comfort in being correct though.

    M. Simon & Junyo: You are on to something there.

    I graduated from high school in 1983 and the world of today’s high schoolers must be as alien to my experience as Maddrasses are to home-schooling in a home with intelligent libertarian-minded parents.

  20. PS In my high school we had a smoking area complete with buttcans and soda machines, located next to the student parking lot (imagine all the evil goings on), all unsupervised. Other than the occasional roll-in-the-dirt fight, it was rather mundane I must say. Such a setup today would be viewed as outright abuse of course.

  21. Mona,

    Sounds to me like your son was TOO good for those shitheads.

  22. Andy,

    You’re right–zero tolerance policies work because the bureaucratic personalities running the schools see them as the path of least resistance. So the way to fight them is to give them their worst nightmare: massive exposure to ridicule and contempt, on a national scale. Maybe something like Larry Flynt’s “Asshole of the Month” feature, but instead call it “Public School Shithead of the Month.” Photo, name, school, the idiocy of which he’s guilty–everything. And send links to the local PTA, school board, superintendent, etc.

  23. Gee, I wish my high school had zero-tolerance policies in the 80’s. I could have gotten expelled for something legal.

  24. No wonder there has been a rise in homeschooling over the past twenty years

  25. Schools are great examples of what happens when one group of people has nearly unchecked authority over another.

    Not only does the number of rules go up exponentially, but those in charge develop what can only be described as a deap seated disrespect for the people they have power over.
    This disrespect is best shown in the callous indifference that school admins have when handing down harsh punishments for the trangressions of their numerous rules.

  26. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/20/2004 06:28:56
    Lies are only a problem when you believe them.

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