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The Periodic Polemic

Polemic for 29 March 2001

This is Getting Silly

I just read about how an Annapolis school banned playing tag during recess because it violated that school's "no touch" policy. A friend of mine who lives over there told me how his 3rd grader got suspended for a week. The offense? He touched a girl's behind on a dare. That's sexual harassment.

Are we so knee-jerk we have to automatically assume the worst motives behind behaviors and institute the strictest controls to punish those who step out of an increasingly narrow line? OK, OK, so there are folks who have their reasons for zero-tolerance policies. They want to fight drugs or hate crimes or school shootings. Turns out, they're also fighting tolerance. If you want to send a message to kids that you have zero tolerance for something, you send a message that it's OK to have zero tolerance.

I can't tolerate that.

Now, I know that much of the to-do is done out of fear of potential litigation. Fine. Rather than blame lawyers as part of the problem, I instead propose that they become part of the solution.

I propose every parent spend a little money on your kids in a good way and hire a lawyer to accompany them to school. If you can't afford a lawyer, at least get a paralegal. They don't have to go every day in most cases, but often enough to rattle the cages of the overly-confining school administrators. Heck, I'm sure a group of parents could hire a lawyer for a class-action case.

What could the lawyers do, you ask? Well, merely by asking, you reveal your lack of legal training. The real lawyers are already hustling this new line of business.

There are lots of laws that require students to be placed in "the least restrictive environment." Although initially intended for special-needs students, a clever legal eagle could make that sort of language mean whatever he needs it to mean to file that lawsuit and go for the juicy out-of-court settlement. Or how about equal access under the law? We used to bust segregated school districts with that sort of tool, but I betcha it could be applied to over-restrictive school policies.

And how about the king daddy solution of them all? Civil rights violations! Whoo-hoo! Just think of all the due process violations, unlawful searches, self-incriminations, and all them other cool things a lawyer could hit a school with! Imagine: a teacher asks little Juan where his homework is. Juan whispers to his lawyer. Juan's lawyer says Juan cannot answer the question, as he elects to exercise his 5th Amendment rights. The teacher gives Juan a failing grade. Now the teacher and the district can be the target of a whole plethora of legal entanglements resulting from this simple action.

Once a school district is more afraid of getting sued over measures it's instituted to avoid lawsuits than it is over what it got scared of being sued about in the first place, it'll relent and repeal the overly-restrictive measures and just post disclaimers all over the place.

The world is a better place, so long as you got the right disclaimers in the right places.

Dean Webb

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