School policies show lack of common sense

In the mid-’80s, director John Hughes made a career of portraying high school administrators as incompetent ninnies. In films like “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” maniacal principals’ schemes for overzealous discipline were played for laughs. But fiction has drawn alarmingly close to fact recently in a trend of bizarre punishments for garden-variety infractions of school policy.
Indianapolis 10th-grader Jenna Fribley was expelled Oct. 3, after school officials caught her carrying on school property the Swiss Army knife she got last summer as a memento of her work on an archaeological dig. When questioned about their judgment (or lack thereof) in expelling Fribley, school officials responded with a song and dance about a policy in the student handbook prohibiting “all knives.” Fribley’s parents filed suit earlier this week in order to get their daughter back in school.
In Ohio, 14-year-old Kimberly Smartt was expelled for giving a 13-year-old friend an over-the-counter Midol tablet acquired from the school nurse’s office. The unauthorized use of the common medication was a violation of the school’s drug policy.
Even more absurd, Detroit youngsters are now toting rolls of toilet paper to school in their backpacks since officials started rationing the use of the school-provided tissue. Apparently some students were flushing whole rolls of toilet paper and clogging the plumbing. Now, when students want to go to the bathroom, they must borrow and return the class roll of toilet paper. Parents staged a demonstration on Tuesday outside the school, demanding that toilet paper be returned to the bathrooms. One mother aptly called it a “toilet-paper rebellion.”
Level-headed people across the country see these headlines, scratch their heads and wonder how school administrators could so completely abandon common sense.
The current media scrutiny of unfair punishment stems from the highly publicized case of Johnathan Prevette, the 6-year-old accused of sexual harassment after kissing a schoolmate he had a crush on. That incident dramatically illustrated the increasingly common gulf between the punishment and the so-called crime. But what’s behind this strange trend?
For the most part, it’s a case of good intentions gone terribly awry. There are real dangers in American schools, and educators are often overwhelmed. Of course administrators should work to protect school children from sexual harassment, illegal drug trafficking, and deadly weapons. No parents in America are going to protest if their children attend schools that prohibit deadly weapons. But in each of these stories we find a poorly constructed school policy and an administration that finds it easier to hold the students strictly and blindly to the policy than to apply good judgment to each situation individually. The rules, created to protect the students, become meaningless obstructions when they’re haphazardly used as justifications for punishment.
Students must see these punishments not as punishments, but as trifles. After all, the kids ain’t dumb. The inevitable result, then, will be a greater disrespect for rules, perhaps even (gasp) teen rebellion … but probably against more than a lack of toilet-paper in the bathrooms. Where’s Ferris when you need him?