It appears that the members of the school board overseeing North Andover High have a problem on their hands. Their students are drinking booze. It’s fairly well agreed that high school students shouldn’t get drunk, despite a long-standing tradition of teenagers testing the limits and feeling their way through their budding adulthood in potentially destructive ways.
But as MADD, and SADD, and any other organization with double “D’s” at their end would have it, these destructive behaviors result in harm, and there is no doubt truth to this argument. So there are two answers: the first is to create a general policy to prevent destructive conduct. The second is to craft a Zero Tolerance approach to show kids how serious this is and how adults would rather scorch their earth than use their heads. The school board in charge of North Andover high picked the latter.
From the Atlantic Wire:
Erin Cox is a senior honor student at North Andover High School and was captain of her school volleyball team until she was punished and suspended for five games. The crime? She gave her drunk friend a ride home.
“A North Andover High School honor student, Erin was cleared by police, who agreed she had not been drinking and was not in possession of alcohol. But Andover High told Erin she was in violation of the district’s zero tolerance policy against alcohol and drug use,” CBS Boston reported.
One of the things we tell our children is that if they are ever in a situation where they need us to come and get them, for whatever reason, we will do so. No questions asked. The idea is simple: it’s better that they live than die. It’s better to save them than scare them. We can deal with the problem later.
Erin Cox was not just the “good girl,” but the young woman who got it. And she was there for her friend, as would be a parent or, well, anyone who didn’t have their head up their butt. Cox received a call from a drunk friend at a party, and Cox did what she had to do.
Police showed up at the party when Cox arrived, but noted that she was neither drinking nor participating. She was a kid who tried to save another kid from that destructive behavior the schools want so desperately to prevent. But no good deed goes unpunished.
The Atlantic Wire article reproduces school policy, which broadly prohibits students from being anywhere near anything the school wants them to avoid, during, before, after school hours. They own these kids, 24/7. For their own good, of course, because schools are paragons of virtue and the judgment of an elected school board is invariably far better than the judgment of anyone else, parents included. Hey, it may be, given some parents, but still.
“The school is really trying to take a very serious and principled stand regarding alcohol,” said Geoffrey Bak, a lawyer for the school district.
And by “very serious and principled,” they mean mind-bogglingly inflexible and harmful. Instead of giving Erin Cox their deep appreciation for doing a good deed, they punished her for being part of a group involved with alcohol. It’s the rules.
While the punishment may not strike many as particularly severe, demoted from captain of her volleyball team and suspended for five games, its impact on a high school student can be disproportionate and far more significant than it would be to an adult. These things can matter to a kid, especially when it seems so patently unfair.
But there is a bigger issue at stake, when the message is sent that by taking action to help someone, to prevent the potential harm that policies seek to prevent, one risks punishment. Has no one on that school board ever listened to Phil Ochs?
The counter argument, of course, is that once exceptions to zero tolerance are made, the moral suasion of the principle is subject to attack and dispute. How can it be that terrible if there is room in the rules to waver, if there are exceptions, if it’s not always that terrible.
Of course, this raises another life lesson, but less so for the students than the school board members and the parents who support zero tolerance. Life’s not that simple. Inflexibility of rules will eventually smack into a brick wall of absurdity. For North Andover High, it happened here.
Some may call Erin Cox a hero for doing the right thing. Some might even think she deserves a trophy. I don’t agree. What Erin Cox did was the right thing, and something that everyone ought to do for a person in need. We don’t get trophies for doing the right thing. It’s what we should expect of ourselves, and our children. They should be thanked and appreciated for doing right, but not put on a pedestal. Doing right should be normal, not special.
But to punish Erin Cox for doing the right thing is crazy, regardless of how severe the punishment is. And as the school board tries to hide behind its “principled” approach to justify what no thinking person would see as an appropriate outcome, it not only puts the lie to the simpletons who adore zero tolerance policies, but teaches the students in their charge an important lesson: it’s better to do nothing and let bad things happen to others. Perfect.