“The Most Insane Zero Tolerance Story Yet”

by Walter Olson on September 20, 2010

Of course everyone has their own favorite insane zero tolerance story. This one, which involves a Swiss Army Knife, an excursion to private school and a series of figures assuring the protagonist “I would love to make this all go away, but my hands are tied,” is Lenore Skenazy’s.


1 Jack Wilson 09.20.10 at 8:21 am

That’s a bad one but I’ve heard of worse cases. For example, when a kid brings a 2 inch plastic toy soldier to school and gets nailed because the soldier has a rifle.

2 Bob 09.20.10 at 2:01 pm

For those of us who grew up in the era that your carried your knife by the 3rd grade and, in high school, stored your shot gun for for after school hunting in a locker in the Industrial Arts Shop, the zero tolerance policy my kids went through was quite a shock. Back in the 90’s the Portage (MI) Public Schools gave a 1-year suspension to a young lady who brought in a plastic picnic knife to cut brownies. My kids could bring in a stainless steel cake spatula with an edge sharp enough to shave you with no problem. Go Figure.

3 kimsch 09.20.10 at 10:17 pm

And scissors are on all the elementary school supply lists.

4 Jack Wilson 09.21.10 at 11:17 am

My question for the zero-tolerance crowd:
Suppose you encounter 2 boys walking down the hall. One is carrying what appears to be a real handgun. The other is carrying a 2 inch plastic toy soldier which is holding a rifle.

Would you respond to both boys in the same manner? If not, why not?

5 DensityDuck 09.21.10 at 11:54 am

@Jack: If the one with the handgun is black, then you call the cops on both of them. If the one with the handgun is white, then you call the cops on *him* and ignore the other kid.

See, that’s what “Zero Tolerance” is all about. It gives administrators a purportedly race-neutral regulation to point to when they’re enforcing behavior codes. If administrators just made judgement calls, then any time they tried to do anything to a “minority” student they’d get accused of racism. But if they can point to Zero Tolerance policy, then they can say “well ma’am it’s not us, it’s Zero Tolerance. It’s not a race thing, it’s just that we’ve got this policy. “

6 MF 09.23.10 at 3:36 pm

Zero tolerance is merely an alternate form of CYA.

7 Jack Wilson 09.24.10 at 9:32 am

Since this is a legal forum, can someone tell me if there has ever been a serious attempt to challenge the notion of zero tolerance in court? How far has it gone? I know if it made it to the Supreme Court that the Fab Four (Thomas, Scalia, Alito, Roberts) would favor slapping it down and might be able to talk some sense into Kennedy.

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