(February 2006 Case Study)
Some misguided and over-zealous officials in the public schools’ war against violence have turned good students into collateral damage. They have instituted zero-tolerance rules and procedures that fail to distinguish between, say, a student who comes to school armed because of gang-related activity and a Boy Scout who forgets before school to take his pocket knife out of his pocket. Unreasonable zero-tolerance standards make it certain that school officials will not make their disciplinary decisions based on sound judgment – and that some good kids will be punished for no good reason. Miles Rankin is one example of zero-tolerance’s collateral damage.
Miles Rankin was a victim of such a policy in Henry County, Georgia. After
a student reported to his teacher that Miles had been showing his friends
a 2 inch pocket knife in the school bathroom, Miles,
a dedicated student with good grades
, was handcuffed and taken away in a police vehicle -- in view of his classmates
-- to a juvenile detention center.
a hearing in juvenile court, Miles was shackled and handcuffed as if he
were a dangerous criminal. The judge presiding over the hearing, who also
happened to be the attorney for the school board, decided that Miles should
remain in the detention center. Miles’s parents were only able to pick
him up on conditional release the
following evening, after he had been imprisoned for over 48 hours.
punishment didn’t end there -- following Miles’s traumatic experience in
the juvenile justice system, his middle school held a disciplinary hearing.
The presiding officer began by asking the scared twelve-year-old if he
understood his right to a hearing and to confront the charges against him
by calling witnesses and cross examining witnesses called by the school.
Though Miles’s mom was in attendance, the transcript of the hearing demonstrates
that Miles and his mother were, understandably, not experts in due process
was asked to sign an admission of guilt. He was clearly willing to admit
that he brought the knife to school, but he and his mother did not know
that the hearing officer would use Miles’ admission to justify meting out
of the students who saw Miles with the knife reported feeling threatened
or believing that Miles would do them any harm with the knife. The school
superintendent acknowledged this, but under the zero-tolerance policy these
factors don’t matter. The hearing officer took the recommendation of the
principal and decided to apply the severest punishment available: expulsion
from school for the remainder of the school year, with the option to attend
an “alternative” school. Though the Rankin family appealed the punishment,
the County School Board simply reviewed the transcript of the initial hearing
and then affirmed the decision.
for Miles and his mom, expulsion was not the extent of the punishment.
The juvenile court found Miles to be “in a state of delinquency.” The court
issued an abeyance and protective
order which placed him under thirty days of house arrest, provided
a curfew, and placed him on probation for 180 days. The court documents
describe only that Miles carried a weapon on school property. There is
no discussion of his intent or behavior with the knife.
to the policy in Henry County Georgia, mere possession of a weapon on school
premises warrants expulsion as well as juvenile court action, regardless
of the intent, purpose, or other relevant behavior of the student. The
hearing officer may have some discretion in determining the punishment;
however, Miles’ case shows how unwilling many school officials are to deviate
from prescribed harsh punishments. Miles clearly disobeyed the rules by
bringing the weapon to school, yet the punishment of expulsion and probation
is severe and completely unnecessary. The end result of the zero-tolerance
policy in this case was the removal of a good student who posed no threat
to others and a traumatic disruption in his life and education.