Schools Have Rules: Better Safe Than Sorry Edition

For the most part, over-reactions by school administrators tend to be based on some bizarrely misguided application of a zero-tolerance rule that was initially born from a well-intended cause.  At the very least, we can attribute the harm done by some grocery clerk with a checklist to something concrete, like strip-searching a teenage girl for killer Ibuprofen to prevent a heroin epidemic.

But the mindless harm caused by school administrators veers off the beaten path when the basis for the over-reaction is . . . mere ignorance, as happened in San Diego’s Millennial Tech Magnet Middle School.

Students were evacuated from Millennial Tech Magnet Middle School in the Chollas View neighborhood Friday afternoon after an 11-year-old student brought a personal science project that he had been making at home to school, authorities said.

Maurice Luque, spokesman for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, said the student had been making the device in his home garage. A vice principal saw the student showing it to other students at school about 11:40 a.m. Friday and was concerned that it might be harmful, and San Diego police were notified.

danger will robinsonWhat was this potentially dangerous thingy?  No clue.  Why was it potentially dangerous?  No clue.  The key to the grocery clerk’s fear was the total absence of knowledge.  So naturally, in came the Metro Arson Strike Team

[T}he project was made of an empty half-liter Gatorade bottle with some wires and other electrical components attached. There was no substance inside.

A MAST robot took pictures of the device and X-rays were evaluated. About 3 p.m., the device was determined to be harmless, Luque said.

Had it dawned on the grocery clerk to just ask the student about the bottle before calling in the SWAT team?  The school was locked down. The rest of the students were taken to a playing field for their protection. Parents were called to come pick up their students.  And the really cool robot, likely purchased with Homeland Protection funding to safeguard middle schools from terrorist attacks, was finally used, one 11 year old found out that the academic tolerance for scientific curiosity is limited to the grasp of a grocery clerk.

Now one might suspect, after the finest minds in protecting the safety of our children were sufficiently calmed by the pronouncement that there would be no Gatorade massacre, that a sheepish grocery clerk would be satisfied that he caused enough trouble for one day.  But that would be to ignore the nature of educators, who are never wrong, even in total ignorance.

The student will not be prosecuted, but authorities were recommending that he and his parents get counseling, the spokesman said. The student violated school policies, but there was no criminal intent, Luque said.
That would likely be the policy against making assistant principals look like grocery clerks.  Apparently, there’s now counseling for that.  After all, we can’t have middle school students engaged in independent scientific endeavors that befuddle school administrators. 

H/T Walter Olson

7 thoughts on “Schools Have Rules: Better Safe Than Sorry Edition

  1. Dissent

    Stop insulting grocery clerks, Scott – they generally have more sense than those school administrators who lack common sense or who just blindly enforce zero tolerance policies.

    I can’t begin to count how many of my patients and other kids with ADHD or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder have been expelled or arrested because the schools conduct programs on Columbine or mass attacks or show them a swastika and then wonder why impulsive or compulsive kids just blurt out something like “Yeah, I’m gonna do that” or doodle a swastika.

    Of course, the kids have no intention of doing anything wrong, and of course, deep down, where some smidgeon of common sense might actually reside, the schools know that, but they throw the kids out of school or have them arrested as a terrorist or for a hate crime. Sure…. let’s just punish kids for not having the neurological controls to not blurt something out. That’ll teach ’em. And by all means, let’s punish the scientifically creative, because God knows, we’ve got too many good scientists.

    Professional certification for education administrators really should include assessment for common sense. And zero tolerance policies must go.

  2. SHG

    But I’m running out of people to insult.  For the sake of others (and to make sure that I’m not picketed by the Grocery Clerks of America, Local 342), I hope people recognize this as a reference to Marlon Brando in the movie, Apocalypse Now.

  3. JKB

    This comes at a time when Wired ran a story about a geek shortage putting in doubt future ability to keep America safe and DARPA efforts to promote science to kids to combat the trend. There may be a geek shortage in middle school as they are likely to be found at the juvenile detention facility. Or being the brainy kids, they may have just learned how to avoid revealing themselves to the grocery clerks.

    The really sad part of this story is that the magnet school was specifically set up to educate students in science and technology but was staffed by officials profoundly lacking in recognizing science and technology curiosity in students.

  4. SHG

    I hadn’t realized that this was a magnet school at first, which just makes this grocery clerk’s conduct even more absurd.  Great incentive for the future scientists of America: counseling.

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