In another episode of “World Gone Mad," a sixteen-year-old Ohio boy has been jailed for allegedly trying to sell sugar packets at school. Conceptualized as a practical joke, the teen took sugar packets from the cafeteria and transferred them to a soda straw wrapper, telling classmates it was a “secret sugar rush concoction." Punishment was swift and ludicrous. The St. Mary’s Memorial High School student was arrested on probation and taken to jail under the school’s zero tolerance policy stated in their handbook:
“In conjunction with the board policy, the St. Mary’s City Schools are a drug free zone and the Board of Education has zero tolerance for substance abuse or possession on school property. The school will cooperate fully with police investigation including but not limited to the use of canine patrol programs subject to the Board of Education policy.”
The boy’s parents were duly outraged, his father issuing this statement:
“He attempted to sell this as his secret sugar rush concoction. His maturity and emotional development is somewhere around the level of a 10 year old or 11. It was very obviously sugar, within a wrapper, candy wrapper. They knew they weren’t dealing with any drug. My son totally uprooted and slammed into jail over a sugar packet is completely unacceptable to me.”
According to the boy’s mother, this is the second time the school has had her son arrested over a “frivolous matter.” These kinds of so called “Zero Tolerance Policies” are responsible for a bevy of other absurd incidents, such as these:
* A fifth-grade class in California, in a gesture to support our troops fighting overseas, put toy soldiers on their graduation mortarboards. School officials forbade them from doing that unless the gun barrels were removed. Education officials pointed to a California weapons law.
* A kindergarten student in Rhode Island was suspended for bringing a plastic knife to school to cut cookies.
* A Utah boy was suspended for giving his cousin a cold pill prescribed to both students.
* At Kilmer Middle School in Virginia, every type of student touching was banned, including handshakes, high-fives, and pats on the back.
St. Mary’s Memorial High School declined comment. The Miami Valley Crime Lab is analyzing the offending sugar packet.
When will cooler heads prevail and the impulse to protect our children be tempered with common sense, especially when dealing with our special needs population? For any child to be subjected to such treatment is traumatic, but all-the-more so for one with autism. To ignore the extenuating circumstance of autism shows just how much work remains to be done within our public schools to bring officials into the twenty-first century.