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Education Reporter

Coalition Wants to Censor Abstinence Education
MANALAPAN, NJ - A parent backlash to a draconian zero-tolerance policy has forced change in this solidly middle-class New Jersey suburb. Parents outraged by the automatic suspension of elementary-school children for off-the-cuff verbal "threats" hired lawyers and forced their local school board to halt the suspensions. The Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District will now implement a saner policy of allowing teachers and principals to address student infractions.

The school district adopted its "zero" policy at the behest of the county prosecutor following the shootings at Santana High School in California in March. The superintendent and principals began meting out suspensions to any student who used words that could possibly constitute a threat. According to the New York Times (5-17-01), about 50 children were suspended over a six-week period after the policy was adopted, compared to none last year. Most of them were in kindergarten through 3rd grade, and all had police files created documenting their misdeeds.

The school board has now pledged to "review" the police file of each suspended student and attempt to expunge the record "if the punishment seemed unfair." According to the Rutherford Institute, many of the suspensions were "not only carried out in an overzealous manner, but defied common sense":

  • A 10-year-old girl was suspended for three days for murmuring "I could kill her," in reference to a teacher who refused to allow her to go to the bathroom, causing her to have an accident.

  • A 10-year-old boy was similarly punished after he muttered "I oughtta murder his face," when a classmate trashed his desk.

  • Yet another student, in discussing the school's new policy, wondered aloud on the school bus what would happen if students substituted the word "doughnut" for the word "kill." When his comments were overheard - consisting of "I'll give you a doughnut" and "It will be so big and I'll put sprinkles on it" - and reported to school authorities, he was suspended for three weeks.

Although some parents were initially in favor of a tougher school policy, most view the end result as trampling on their children's civil rights. "They're suspending babies for saying things they hear everywhere they go," one mother told the New York Times.

The U.S. Department of Education, which helped fuel the fire for zero-tolerance policies with its "Safe and Drug-Free Schools" initiative, is now warning the 90% of school districts nationwide who have implemented such policies to beware, and is compiling a new handbook in conjunction with the Secret Service on how better to evaluate threats.

The American Bar Association (ABA) has also gotten into the act. A February 2001 ABA resolution opposing zero-tolerance policies admits: "Zero tolerance has become a one-size-fits-all solution to all the problems schools confront. It has redefined students as criminals, with unfortunate consequences."

The resolution recommends a return to "school discipline policies that are grounded in common sense, and that are sensitive to student safety and the educational needs of all students."

(See also "Zero Tolerance Equals Zero Thinking".)

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