zero toleranceby Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter, 5/1997

Meet [redacted], the [redacted] 5 year old who was recently suspended one day from kindergarten for bringing a gun to school and taking it out in the lunch room. While both the school superintendent and Governor Weld supported the school for its actions [redacted due to identifying remarks].

The child’s mother was outraged by the suspension, and while she reportedly said she has no intention of suing the school, she has already hired a lawyer to help her draw up what she called a more sensible program for young children.

Sorry, but zero tolerance is a sensible policy, even when the “offender” is a five year old child. While the child obviously made an innocent mistake and doesn’t need a weapons violation on his permanent record, the one-day suspension (and hopefully, some thoughtful instruction from his mother) will convince him he still made a grave mistake that he must never repeat.

The child has to understand that other people did not know his toy gun wasn’t real. The news often carries stories of children injured or killed because they found a loaded weapon that wasn’t properly locked away. Students have brought weapons to school before.

My friend Mo, who is a 4th grade teacher in an elementary school in northern Massachusetts told me that this year alone she’s confiscated a hypodermic needle, butcher knife and a meat cleaver from various students. The meat cleaver, she added, was taken from a 4th grader.

A zero tolerance policy for weapons is the only way to go in schools because even toys look real from a few feet away—there’s no way to tell. A zero tolerance policy for drugs is also the only way to go, and unfortunately this is now a Foxboro problem. Stories of Foxboro students suspended for handing out the over-the-counter stimulant No-Doz gave way to the shocking story of Foxboro students arrested on school grounds for cocaine and crack pipe possession.

Cocaine? Crack? In Foxboro?

As hard as this is to believe, as extremely difficult for us to accept, and despite the fact that many people seem to be in denial about it, we have to wake up to the fact that Foxboro has a teen drug problem. Judging by recent headlines, it’s getting worse.

Most of us see this town as a haven of suburbia, and a nice place to live. Foxboro is both those things and much more. But we must never allow ourselves to believe that “it can’t happen here.” We kept saying that last year after the Levesque murders: “It can’t happen here. It can’t happen here.”

It can, and it does.

Thank God, murders and violent crime are extremely rare in towns such as ours, but we are not immune to the teen drug problem.

There are no simple answers and no easy solutions for a problem as complex as this one. We have the DARE program to educate kids about the evil of drugs, and we have anti-drug forums. But when only 80 people show up at the anti-drug forum, it’s obvious that there isn’t enough parental attention to this problem. How could so many parents miss this important event?

We have to support the zero-tolerance policy. Some people might say that zero-tolerance for drugs goes to far, and they cite examples around the country where one student was suspended for having Midol on her person, and in a different state, a girl was suspended for taking an Advil.

I asked Mo what the policy is at her school. Can students take non-prescription drugs?

“No,” she replied. “I see anyone taking anything—we don’t care if it’s an aspirin—we want a note from the parent. We see kids walking in with zip-lock bags full of pills they claim to be antibiotics, or whatever. We have no way of knowing what the pills could be.”

That’s one school’s policy. What Foxboro schools do might be different. Maybe the answer is a note from parents for kids who need antibiotics or other non-prescription medication; maybe the solution is that all non-prescription drugs like Tylenol should be distributed by the school nurse.

A zero tolerance policy should still be flexible enough to distinguish between the student who takes an Advil and the student who is found with cocaine. These are two vastly different offenses and should be dealt with individually. We can still have zero-tolerance without expelling kids for taking aspirin, but we cannot tolerate drug use or possession in our schools. There must be a system. There must be policies.

There are many questions and issues to be addressed, and the community must get more involved in this problem NOW. Foxboro seems to have no problem getting everyone in a frenzy about the Patriots Super Bowl hopes, but something far more critical, far more personal, and something that can destroy the very fabric of this town’s future is addressed by 80 of the 20,000 people who live here. The apathy and denial must stop now. Like a cancer, this type of town problem will grow, and it will consume.

Parents, it’s time to get involved and address this terrible problem. It isn’t going away. Left unchecked, it will destroy us.

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