School Stands by Zero Tolerance - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

03/09/04

School Stands by Zero Tolerance

We're continuing to follow the story of a Chatham County student suspended because police dogs alerted to the smell of drugs on his back pack. Police were performing a random drug search at Jenkins High School yesterday when their dogs reacted to Renard Powers. Police said they picked up the smell of marijuana and cocaine.

As part of their zero tolerance policy, the school suspended the student, calling it passive participation. His mother, Lanor Smith, is furious. "They're wrong, for a smell, to suspend him for three days?" she said. "Yes, to me they are wrong for that."

Renard's serving a two-day suspension for the drug incident and one for having a cell phone while on school property.

In a situation like Renard's, many people are asking the question, when is zero tolerance too much? We spoke with Dr. Freddie Gilyard, principal at Jenkins, and she said the zero tolerance policy is there for a very good reason, and if parents and students don't agree with the punishment, they can take it up with the school.

"There's sometimes mitigating circumstances that will support the principal's decision to not go strictly by the zero tolerance rule," she said. 

Gilyard can't on comment on Renard's individual case, but does say meeting with parents and the student in question may help resolve the problem. She also says that when it comes to enforcing zero tolerance, there should be no exceptions, just like there were no exceptions for the kindergarten student who brought his toy guns--which were no larger than the size of a quarter--to school.

While suspensions like these might seem far fetched, school principals say they have to draw the line even on things that might seem ridiculous. "Decisions are not made in arrogance, but as we consider what is appropriate for all children in school, sometimes that hard decision has to be made," said Gilyard.

There can be some exceptions in certain instances, but in others like Renard's, the student has to show responsibility for his actions. "What students have to do is be aware of what's going on so that they can remove themselves from certain situations that may create an uncomfortable or unpleasant outcome," Gilyard said.

While the kindergartner who brought his toy guns to school was readmitted the next day, Renard Powers' mother has yet to meet with the schools principal to discuss her son's suspension.

Reported by: Nicole Teigen, nteigen@wtoc.com

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