When I taught high school, I remember an incident that showed me how institutionalized our students had become. Prominently featured in each classroom was a digital clock that was centrally networked so that all clocks were set to the same time. This is a good thing and helps with keeping everyone on time, but it also had a negative effect. One day, we had a glitch in the clock system and they all went off. The kids literally did not know how to act without an ever-present clock letting them know exactly where they were supposed to be at any given time. It actually upset them when the clock was gone, even for a short period.
The same can evidently be said for some public schools and the policies / rules that govern them. Zero tolerance rules were put into place to make the rules absolute and require no common sense / higher thinking in their administration. However, as in the case of some of the more ridiculous suspensions / expulsions involving fake guns, zero tolerance is a lazy and flawed system. The latest ridiculous case of following the rules beyond the realms of common sense and decency comes to us from Minnesota. As I’m sure you are aware, things have been quite cold in Minnesota and most of the United States of late. This is to be expected as its winter, but it doesn’t negate the fact that being out in bitterly cold weather can be dangerous for human beings.
At Como Park High School in St. Paul, a science experiment went awry and set off a fire alarm. At the same time, 14-year-old Kayona Hagen-Tietz was swimming in the school’s pool as part of health class. When the alarm went off, everyone was expected to leave the building and go to predetermined safe spots. This is the correct policy and one which public schools frequently practice to make sure that its second nature if there is an emergency. However, Kayona was not allowed to get her clothes. Again, this could be understandable if teachers didn’t know the extent of the threat and wanted to get everyone out of the building safely. Once outside Kayona, who was now weathering the –25 degree wind chill in nothing but a wet swimsuit, asked if she could either shelter in a car or go next door to an elementary school until the all clear was given.
This is where things get ridiculous. The staff were so determined to follow the rules that students had to stay in the predetermined locations that they refused to let her do anything that would help her get warm. They stated they were worried of the school getting in trouble if she didn’t stay where she was. As a result, her mother says that she suffered frostbite and had to go to the doctor. Fortunately the whole ordeal only lasted around 10 minutes, or she could have been seriously injured by the cold. There is no reason why she should not have been helped to some sort of shelter. The whole point of the fire procedures is to protect students and in this case the rigid application of those policies did more harm then good. This is why rules and policies have to be administered by adults who are mature and trusted enough to apply them with common sense. At the same time, when common sense leads those professionals to make a judgment call, they need to be supported and not punished.