Logic as important as rules

Published 9:10 am Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Rules are important. Rules are in place to protect us from the carelessness or ill intent of others.

Rules are intended to keep us safe and secure. They should be respected and enforced — especially in our schools, where the safety and well-being of our children is at stake.

For rules to be effective, there must be a negative consequence when they are broken. In simplest terms, break the law; go to jail. But we don’t write laws that we might send people to jail; we reserve the right to send offenders to jail as a deterrent to those who might consider breaking the law.

Once it is determined that a crime has been committed, the judge is obligated to hand down a punishment. The extent of the punishment — the length of prison sentence, amount of the fine to be paid, the number of hours to be spent in community service — is determined at the discretion of the judge. The judge is given latitude, within the parameters of sentencing guidelines, to choose between leniency and severity in determining punishment. Certainly, the intent of the offender, as well of the offender’s behavioral history — or lack of one — is taken into consideration when determining a suitable punishment

Last week, a student at Southampton Middle School was suspended for breaking the rules; the student opened an exterior door in violation of a new security policy. By all accounts, the student was being courteous to an adult he recognized as belonging on the premises and whose hands were full as they approached the door.

But while we expect the best of our children and wish more were raised to be thoughtful and courteous, rules are rules and the child opened a door, which was to remain closed. Some form of reprimand was appropriate.

As in the criminal justice system, common sense should always have a place at the table when determining the severity of punishment for a child who breaks the rules. It is a weak and shameful state of affairs when administrators cry out “We had no choice … The policy made us do it.”

A zero-tolerance policy is, in essence, a screen behind which some school administrators take shelter from the ramifications of poor decisions — or hide from potential controversy by making no decision at all. Perhaps if we have eliminated the need for school administrators to use judgment when handing out discipline, maybe it is time we examine the possibility of doing away with the school administrators themselves.