It would be too easy to dismiss the concern raised by students who were expelled from their high school last week after admitting they smoked marijuana at an out-of-town soccer meet.
“Serves ’em right.”
“They had it coming.”
“Do the crime, pay the fine.”
And yet that trenchant response fails the student community, and denies school administrators the opportunity to use discretion in assessing and arbitrating student conduct.
“Zero tolerance” is a popular phrase. It’s pulled out whenever we want to express our collective anger over behaviour we want changed. It demonstrates the kind of fortitude that plays well in a 10-second sound bite.
But it is a blunt instrument that attempts to apply simple solutions to complicated issues.
The students expelled from Sardis secondary last week offer a case in point. (Parents call for flexibility in punishment policy, Progress, Oct. 1.)
Their parents agree there must be consequences. The teenagers will be punished at home, and they should be punished at school.
What they question is an arbitrary expulsion, without consideration of mitigating factors so common in our own legal system: prior offenses, personal character, opportunities for change.
These are fundamental precepts of sentencing. Some may disagree with them, but those who do forget that courts are not there simply to exact punishment, but to educate and encourage rehabilitation.
To be clear, the students were never caught smoking marijuana. They admitted to it later when confronted.
They could have done what politicians and professional athletes have taught them over the years: deny, deny, deny.
But they didn’t. They took responsibility for their stupidity and braced for the consequences.
What they learned was that honesty matters little.
And that’s the collateral implication of uncompromising policies.
True, they provide a tidy response, and paint the world in convenient blacks and whites, regardless of the circumstance.
What they fail to do, however, is offer the flexibility to craft solutions that can turn a bad decision by one into a lesson for many.
What the students did was wrong.
But the response was a surrendered opportunity, forced by a policy that needs changing.