Zero Sense?

Schools have to be strict about ensuring an orderly, safe setting for learning. But they also have to be reasonable in the way they go about it. After all, classrooms are supposed to nurture the faculty of reason.

That's why we have some qualms about the "zero tolerance" policies that are gaining popularity in school districts throughout the country. They are modeled, loosely, on the rigid sentencing laws prevalent in the criminal justice system.

Under such policies, students of whatever age found with any weapon or drug face automatic suspension or expulsion. As a deterrent, these rules could make sense. But their application is often less than sensible.

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Consider:

* The honors student who brought his French teacher a bottle of French wine for Christmas. Poor judgment, certainly, warranting a reprimand. But a two-week suspension?

* The 13-year-old suspended for using mouthwash after lunch.

* A normally well-behaved high school student suspended for carrying a small pocketknife to open packages on his after-school job.

Rules can be tough without being unreasonable. Administrators can be strict without abdicating sound judgment. If a proper balance isn't struck here, the wrong lesson is taught.

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