No room for discretion

In the past we have bemoaned the lack of discretion and common sense in many cases of school discipline and “zero tolerance” policies for drugs or weapons.

This past week another such case popped up, not too far away either, in the United South Central School District in Wells. There, the school board voted to expel a student, junior Alyssa Drescher, for having a pocket knife in her purse.

According to the Mankato Free Press, the knife was discovered during a school-wide drug sweep. A drug sniffing dog reacted to her locker. No drugs were found, but a pocket knife in her purse was discovered. Drescher said she forgot to remove it from her purse after using it the previous weekend to cut bale twine while helping her boyfriend do farm chores.

Drescher is described by teachers and friends as a model student, one who has never had so much as a detention. No one had any thought that she would use the knife to hurt or threaten anyone.

Still, rules are rules. Weapons don’t belong in schools, and school officials should take such situations seriously. She was suspended for three days, in itself a serious penalty.

But after a hearing before the school board, the board voted to expel her for the rest of the academic year. Apparently the board decided to make an example of her, using her as a warning to other students that zero tolerance means zero tolerance at the USC district.

We’re sure students got that message. But they also got the message that the easiest way to deal with difficult decisions, to many adults, is to avoid the decision, to set strict policies that take discretion and judgment out of the equation.

We’re not sure that’s a good lesson to be teaching.

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