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April 12, 2000

Students punished for snorting Kool-Aid; have 'zero tolerance' rules gone insane?

WASHINGTON, DC -- A public school that suspended students for snorting Kool-Aid -- that's right; snorting Kool-Aid! -- shows that "zero tolerance" policies have gone too far, the Libertarian Party said today.

"Zero tolerance has become infinitely ridiculous," said Steve Dasbach, the party's national director. "Unless school officials thought they had to act fast before students start smoking Tang or mainlining Hawaiian Punch, then suspending students for abusing Kool-Aid seems to be a classic case of zero tolerance nonsense.

"Like so much of what government schools do, most zero tolerance policies display zero common sense, zero benefits, and zero effectiveness."

This week, the O.T. Bonner Middle School in Danville, Virginia, suspended eight students for one week after they were caught sniffing Kool-Aid.

The seventh- and eighth-grade students were charged with "possession of contraband" because they were "using Kool-Aid in a way that imitated the use of illegal drugs," school officials explained.

The students got off easy: They could have been suspended for a year on the charge of "using a look-alike drug."

But any government school bureaucrat who thinks the brightly colored, sugary, powdered drink mix is "a look-alike drug" -- or even "contraband" -- must have, well, gone to a government school, said Dasbach.

"This is your brain; this is a public school bureaucrat's brain on Kool-Aid," he said. "When school officials think that cracking down on powdered drink mix abuse is more important than educating students, then there is zero hope for the public education system."

But the "War on Kool-Aid" isn't the only example of zero-tolerance policies gone berserk, said Dasbach. Over the past year...

* A school in New Jersey suspended two kindergarten students after they played "cops and robbers" on the playground, pointed their fingers at each other like guns, and shouted "bang bang!"

* A school in Maryland suspended a student after he drew a crude picture of a gun on a piece of paper. The nine-year-old was charged with violating the school's anti-weapon policy.

* A school in Kansas suspended a seventh-grader for three days after he drew a picture of a confederate flag. The flag, said officials, violated the school's policy against "racially divisive" material.

* A school in Michigan flagged a sixth-grader as a potential violence risk -- and told his parents they had to meet with the school's "Hazard and Risk Assessment Team" -- after he suggested that one way to prevent school shootings would be to allow teachers to carry guns.

* A school in Minnesota refused to allow a high school senior who had enlisted in the Army to pose for a yearbook picture sitting atop a World War II howitzer at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post. The photo would violate the school's anti-weapon policy, said officials.

Libertarians don't object to zero tolerance policies on principle, said Dasbach -- only to the arbitrary way they are implemented and enforced by government schools.

"Many private schools also have strict rules against violence and inappropriate behavior," he noted. "The difference is that private schools can compete on the basis of effective discipline, and parents have the choice of sending their children to a school that offers the kind of regulatory structure they want.

"On the other hand, parents whose children are trapped in government schools don't have that choice. They must settle for whatever ridiculous rules local public school bureaucrats implement. And parents are then forced to pay taxes to support that school, even if they strongly object to its silly zero tolerance policies."

Until parents have real educational freedom and can use their own money to send their children to the non-governmental school of their choice, Dasbach said he has a solution to the "zero tolerance" madness.

"If these actions for which government schools are punishing students are a real danger, let's have the rest of the government treat them as real, too.

"For example, let's have the DEA start doing drug tests for Kool-Aid addiction. Let's have the Secret Service defend the president by pointing their fingers at potential assassins and shouting, 'Bang, bang!' And let's send the U.S. military to Kosovo with photographs of howitzers and a drawing of a gun," he said.

"Of course, that's ridiculous -- but no more ridiculous than the zero tolerance policies that government schools are inflicting on American children. That's why it's time for a zero tolerance policy about loony zero tolerance policies."



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