Zero Tolerance, Police, Handcuffs, House Arrest…and a 14-y.o.Who Was Joking with His Teacher

Readers — The young man below, Kyle, age 14, had a piece of paper in his notebook that a friend yanked out, labeled “Hit List.” It was not a serious list, he says, and he and his teacher had a joking tug of war over it. Strangely, it was the tug of war rather than the “Hit List” idea that sent irnkkdrrib
Kyle into the Kafka-esque zone
where Zero Tolerance meets policy meets police. He was clapped into handcuffs and suspended for  for 180 days, not just from his school but from any public school in his state. He is effectively under house arrest.


As the ACLU (which made this video) notes: “Sadly, Kyle’s story is not unique. Countless young students are treated the same—and even worse—because of a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to school discipline that is spreading across the U.S. It takes kids out of the education system and funnels them into the criminal justice system because of a single, small infraction. There, they can look forward to a life of neglect and lost opportunity, as it can be impossible to find new schools or attend college once their records are tainted.”

Race is a factor, too, says the ACLU: “…because of documented bias in the application of justice, these policies often hit students of color the hardest.”

If you’d like to sign a petition, there’s one here. I signed it. – L.

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43 Responses to Zero Tolerance, Police, Handcuffs, House Arrest…and a 14-y.o.Who Was Joking with His Teacher

  1. J.T. Wenting October 9, 2013 at 2:02 pm #

    spot on except the race slur (which is nonsense, yet typical ACLU).

  2. marie October 9, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    Zero tolerance polices and cops in the schools. Bad combination that leads to students in handcuffs.

    I want to hear from a school administrator how he or she can sleep at night after suspending a kid for zero tolerance reasons.

  3. Jen Connelly October 9, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

    Suspended for 180 days? Um, that’s the entire school year. So basically they are dooming him to fail an entire year of school and be held back.

    If they think the kid might be a threat they should be finding him help not sending him into a life of seclusion where his “hit list” (whatever it meant originally) might become something real with public education system on the top of it.

    Zero tolerance policies are moronic and keep no one safe. All they do is screw up lives for kids just being kids (as in not using good judgement). The ones that were going to do something harmful aren’t going to care about the rules or school anyway.

    It scares me that I had to drill into my son’s head that he can’t play “army” or point his fingers like a gun or bring anything that could be construed as a weapon even something innocent like a toy to school or he could get into real trouble that could follow him the rest of his life.

  4. Leila October 9, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    But Lenore, can he be homeschooled? It almost seems like this is his opportunity to escape mindless re-education in the public school system. Why accept a fate dictated by unreasonable people?

    I agree that the race note is unnecessary. The fact is, this story contains its own judgement. Why would someone want to be in that system? There are alternatives! Let’s help him think outside the box.

  5. Katie October 9, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

    I just don’t see how this helps anyone. What does this punishment instill in him? Does anyone really see this as effective to prevent issues in the future? Seems like it could just create a whole slew of new ones.

    While I appreciate Leila’s sentiment, not everyone can afford homeschooling. Meaning, that assumes someone can stay home with the child to do the schooling. In which case, a lot of the negatives could, indeed, be mitigated. However, if it isn’t feasible, this leaves a kid looking for a way to fill his time – unsupervised – for a year. Yeah – I see how that doesn’t create more problems. Even the best of kids can get themselves into trouble that way! Does he get a job? He is 14…

    This just seems ridiculous!

  6. Donna October 9, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    Actually, the race comment is spot-on. People of color are more likely to be prosecuted and face harsher penalties for the same crimes. It is well documented even if it doesn’t fit the current there is no racism in America anymore agenda. Some of this is because so much about crime is tied to poverty and a larger percentage of people of color live in poverty and some is racism and different expectations.

  7. Bostonian October 9, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    If the boy was in a tug-of-war over a piece of paper with a teacher, and she alleges the mutual struggle was violent enough that in his participation in the struggle he assaulted her, then her equal participation can only be considered child abuse. Why has the teacher not been arrested?

  8. Papilio October 9, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    “It takes kids out of the education system and funnels them into the criminal justice system because of a single, small infraction. There, they can look forward to a life of neglect and lost opportunity, as it can be impossible to find new schools or attend college once their records are tainted.”

    Yes, this.
    Don’t children have rights these days?

  9. Warren October 9, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

    From balls to handcuffs to school police to zero tolerance, the public system is almost beyond repair. Parents have got to start doing something now, not later.

    Bascially sentenced to a 180 days. At least those convicted in court have the right to an appeal.

  10. Donna October 9, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

    Leila –

    Yes, he can be homeschooled. However, not every parent is equipped to homeschool their children in temperament or knowledge. Not every parent has time to homeschool. And forced homeschooling is especially unlikely to be successful.

    Further not every kid wants to be homeschooled. My daughter’s best friend hates school and asked her mother, a former teacher, to homeschool her (mom said no) so I asked my daughter if she wanted to be homeschooled and you’d have thought I asked her if I could throw all her toys in the fire pit and burn them. She detests the idea.

  11. Donna October 9, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

    “At least those convicted in court have the right to an appeal.”

    Those expelled at a school disciplinary hearing have a right to appeal that decision too. It is as unlikely to be successful as a criminal appeal is, but they do have the right to appeal.

  12. Donna October 9, 2013 at 4:38 pm #

    I don’t see this as a zero tolerance issue. The policy demands 180 day suspension for any child who assaults a teacher and I have no problem with that. If this story was about a boy who actually assaulted his teacher when she asked for the paper, my response would be “and the problem is?”

    However, defining his actions as assault is completely and utterly ridiculous. This teacher clearly should not be teaching and law enforcement should not have even entertained this charge.

  13. Bacopa October 9, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    How does a 180 day suspension help? OK, suppose they are taking this stuff seriously because of school shootings. How does this help? Why not just suspend him for a couple of days, do a little investigation to find out he’s not a threat, and then let him back in school?

    We have come to love punishment for it’s own sake so much that we have stopped asking whether it helps in every case.

  14. Warren October 9, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

    If that teacher is so afraid of students that she calls this action assault, she has no right teaching. Get out of the classroom, and find another career.

    What the hell has happened to society?

    30 yrs ago, this would have been resolved with the teacher snatching the paper, and telling him to go sit down. And that’s all.

    Guys used to get into scraps, the principal or teacher would take their time breaking them up, to give them a chance to get it out of their system. Detention, maybe suspension, and parents maybe called. Now, arrested and charged.

    The world we are leaving our kids and grandkids is not one I want to be apart of. Unless things start changing soon.

  15. Warren October 9, 2013 at 5:27 pm #

    It would be an extension of zero tolerance. As any action that a teacher feels uneasy about is considered assault.

  16. Donna October 9, 2013 at 6:05 pm #

    Warren, any action that we don’t like at school is not zero tolerance. Zero tolerance is becoming like bullying – a word used so often as to be completely devoid of all its meaning.

    If you believe that what he did actually was an assault, just not an assault serious enough to mandate a 180 day suspension, then THAT is zero tolerance. He would have been suspended based on having committed an assault with no consideration as to the minor nature of the assault.

    If you, like I do, believe that no assault was actually committed, zero tolerance is not an issue at all. It is simply false accusation that happens every day around the US, often simply on the word of one “victim” like here. In fact, the story says that several witnesses indicated that the teacher lied about what occurred. I’d be more than happy to take a case of a kid charged for assault because he held onto a piece of paper to trial.

  17. Puzzled October 9, 2013 at 6:41 pm #

    Why does the video conclude with “keep kids in school”? It’s absurd to try to learn from such dumb people. Get kids out of school. Homeschooling, by the way, doesn’t have to be as hard as people think. Combine, if you can, bringing your kids to work, letting them sleep during the day and talking to them at night, and independent reading at the library.

  18. Bacopa October 9, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

    A bit of background about how it was in 1980 in middle school in a suburban Houston district. I bragged to a friend that I could make a smoke bomb out of powdered sugar and another chemical I had access to which I will not name here. He didn’t believe me so I proceed to cook the mixture on a hot plate outdoors as my brother and had done with parental approval a few months earlier. Got my little sugar/oxidizer nuggets and wrapped it up in semigloss typing paper. Big mistake. Gloss paper is hard to light. I didn’t get that thing set off until someone told on me and I was caught.

    So what happened. Meeting with an assistant principal who told me he didn’t believe who grew up on the Texas .back bayous that used to farm sugar cane who told me he didn’t believe sugar could burn because they used to harvest the secondary winter cane by setting the chaff from the first harvest on fire. Result was a three day suspension for having fireworks in school. The Asst Principal told me when I got back that my smoke bomb blew up real good in his BBQ grill and that the dryness and the oxidizer must have made all the difference and that cane wouldn’t burn because the moisture from the dead leaves must go into the central stalk.

    Replay this today and I would be tried as an adult as a bomb maker.

    And don’t anyone think race doesn’t make a difference. Suburban black kids down the road had it almost as easy, Black kids from the dairy farm were OK too, but black folks from the old Freedman’s Settlement felt the hammer hard.

  19. ND October 9, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

    All the articles on this seem to be focusing on the “hit list” which, for once, isn’t the actual problem here. The problem is an overly anxious teacher who thinks she’s being assaulted when a teenage boy doesn’t immediately obey her commands. No teacher who has that much trouble with normal teenage behaviour has any business in a classroom.

    And yes, race does play a part. There are verified, peer reviewed studies showing exactly how much more likely dark skinned boys are to be pathologised for displaying the same behaviour as light skinned boys. There are studies showing how we subconsciously consider dark skinned men more of a threat than light skinned men. Don’t believe it if you don’t want to. It’s not going to change the basic reality of the world we live in.

  20. anonymous this time October 9, 2013 at 8:18 pm #

    Agree absolutely with the idea that race plays a part in many of these “nervous teacher can’t feel comfortable around male students” stories.

    And really, it is our societal discomfort with “black men” that leads to the disproportionate incarceration. Loved the movie “The House I Live In” because it so clearly illustrated the ways we have criminalized addiction, and how addiction disproportionately becomes criminalized in poor communities.

    And all of our fears get played out in our law-making, or haven’t people noticed?

    Anyway, this is a heartbreaking story, and about the most short-sighted implementation of a “punishment” I can imagine. Well, at least the ACLU has taken up his cause, that will help him realize he’s not a bad kid, it’s just a VERY flawed system.

  21. Earth.W October 9, 2013 at 8:19 pm #

    What happened to the teacher? Apologies if it says in the video. I cannot view videos at the moment.

  22. Rachel October 9, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

    I signed the petition. I hope it makes a difference.

  23. Freedomforkids October 9, 2013 at 9:42 pm #

    I wish I could get the message to this boy to look into the book “The Teenage Liberation Handbook” by Grace Llewelyn. He can educate himself at home, without an adult sitting down with him “educating” him.

  24. Reziac October 9, 2013 at 9:48 pm #

    Warren and Donna — “zero tolerance” IS bullying. No different from any bully who says “Step out of line and I’ll trash you,” and has a string of ‘reasons’ to justify it.

  25. J.T. Wenting October 9, 2013 at 11:37 pm #

    “Actually, the race comment is spot-on. People of color are more likely to be prosecuted and face harsher penalties for the same crimes. It is well documented even if it doesn’t fit the current there is no racism in America anymore agenda. Some of this is because so much about crime is tied to poverty and a larger percentage of people of color live in poverty and some is racism and different expectations.”

    no, it’s not spot-on. It’s
    1) in no way related to the incident
    2) suggestive in that it without any evidence makes people think blacks are treated more harshly because all whites are racist (and you fell for it instantly)

    If the population of prisons contains a higher percentage of blacks than the general population, and those on average are there for longer sentences than the average for the prison population, you can only draw the conclusions that a disproportionate number of blacks get convicted of disproportionately serious crimes.
    You can’t, as the ACLU does implicitly, assume any reasoning for that except that a disproportionate number of blacks get in touch with the justice system for disproportionately serious crimes.

    If however the US system works anything like the one we have here, blacks on average will get LESS serious punishment and prosecution (and thus case by case will be less likely to be arrested, if arrested less likely to be convicted and if convicted spend less time behind bars than whites for the same crime). And still the same situation applies here among the prison population. Example: several years ago a court here (same judges) handled 2 identical murder cases. One was a white man murdering a black man, the other a black man murdering a white man. Both cases were otherwise almost identical. The white guy got 15 years, the black guy convicted of the same crime with the same evidence weight against him got only 5, and had part of that pardoned on the spot. And such cases are common here (though not often you see 2 such serious ones handled by the same judge on the same day).

  26. Arianne October 9, 2013 at 11:39 pm #

    To those saying that homeschooling is not necessarily a viable option because not every parent can stay home: I would say that, at 14, it’s not totally unreasonable to assume that many kids in this position could to a good measure take the reigns on their own education, at least for one year, with not too much direction from a parent. I had a friend who, very near that age, pretty much did just that. Sure some kids wouldn’t do so well at this at 14, and no, it wouldn’t be ideal, but it would sure beat a year of *nothing*. Not that I can say if it would or wouldn’t work for this family, but it’s not unreasonable to discuss it here.

  27. Kathryn October 10, 2013 at 12:54 am #

    Why not link to the ACLU petition to the Michigan legislature? It’s hyperlinked in the video toward the end of the video.

    ACLU Petition

  28. Andy October 10, 2013 at 5:52 am #

    @Leila I’m college educated professional and I would not be able to homeschool my kids anything more then first few years of elementary school. He is 14 years old, so it very possible his parents can not effectively do it – just like me.

    Just for the record, I have knowledge to teach 14 years old math, programming and with some effort physics. Biology and chemie would be a stretch. Writing, history and geography would suffer a lot.

    Requiring parents to essentially supply what a team of teachers is able to do is very easily out of those parents possibilities. Especially if they need to work too.

  29. Donna October 10, 2013 at 7:53 am #

    JT Wenting –

    All I can say is wow. You have apparently decided (a) you are the authority on racism in America and the American criminal justice system, to the point of calling several Americans wrong (as several people expressed the same sentiments that I did), despite the fact that you don’t live in the country nor do you have any knowledge of its criminal justice system, and (b) all criminal justices systems are exactly same regardless of country or individuals so the fact that a white person got a harsher sentence than a black person in your country (whatever that is) means that, of course, white people get harsher sentences in America too.

    I’d say more but it would be pointless. You have decided that you know America better than Americans and you know the American criminal justice system better an American lawyer. I will just take your opinions on the subject for what they are worth.

  30. Steve S October 10, 2013 at 9:22 am #

    This happened a few hours from where I live. In this state, the legislature and the governor are 100% responsible for the zero-tolerance policies that the schools have. I remember when they were enacted. Previously, it was up to schools and communities to decide how to handle things like kids bringing weapons to school, fighting, and other disruptive behaviors. From my experience, it seemed that most looked at them on a case by case basis and made decisions based on what happened and what motivated the behavior.

    Following the shootings at Columbine, there was a big push by the legislature and the governor to “do something.” Instead of carefully and pragmatically thinking of programs, they decided that it was better to appear to do something and we ended up with the policies that we have now. I would also add that the federal gov’t has also pushed some of these policies and has tied them to continued funding.

    Among other things, the legislature mandated that kids that assaulted teachers, brought weapons to school, and brought OTC medication would be expelled for 1 school year. Most schools that I have seen were not happy because it takes away any discretion they have and punishes them if they do not comply. The result is that a student that brings in a knife with the intention of stabbing another student gets treated the same way that a student that brings in nail clippers to trim their nails. These policies are too broad and inclusive.

    From what I can tell over the years, it is unclear who wants these policies. Schools don’t like them. Most parents don’t like them. Why do we still have them????

  31. Ariel October 10, 2013 at 9:23 am #

    We are so much stupider today. It’s all I have to say.

  32. Steve S October 10, 2013 at 9:33 am #

    @Donna is correct. I practice some criminal law. Basically, people with more money fare better in the court system. Poor people (many of whom are minorities) have a harder time. They are the ones that end up with public defenders and court-appointed attorneys. There are some great lawyers that do this kind of work, but there is only so much you can do with the limited funds.

  33. Jennifer Lynch October 10, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    This is a problem for everyone, not just coloreds.

  34. Donna October 10, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    JT Wenting –

    I do think that you are looking at racism as dislike of blacks, a belief that they are less than whites and a desire to see them fail. That is not what I am talking about. Those days are long gone and the people who still feel that way are largely vilified in the US.

    I am talking about the stereotyping of people of color that is a form of racism and clouds perceptions of their actions, mostly without people realizing that they are even doing it.

    We talk here often about prevalence of the belief of man = potential pedophile and woman = safe. Because of that a man is much more likely to have his innocent acts misconstrued and have a much harder fight if accused of child molestation. The public, police, DAs, juries, judges, etc. are ready and willing to believe he is a potential molester right out of the gate, but for a woman they have to overcome the belief that women don’t do that to get them there. So, when faced with an action that could be construed as either innocent or criminal, there is a tendency to view the act as criminal for men and innocent for women. A man in the park giving a band-aid to a child is grooming and a woman doing the same thing is being maternal.

    The same is true for blacks. In general, blacks are viewed as more prone to dishonesty, crime and violence. That doesn’t mean that everyone views every black person as dishonest, criminal and violent; just that as a whole the black population is viewed as having a greater tendency toward dishonesty, crime and violence than the white population. So when confronted with a black person accused of being dishonest, criminal or violent, there is less of a leap needed to believe that s/he is guilty of that wrongdoing. And when faced with an act that could be construed as criminal or innocent, they more readily jump to criminal with blacks than whites.

    Now I do see subtle shifts towards more equality in this area, but they are not in the positive. There now seems to be more of an inclination to believe everyone is a criminal and never believe anything is innocent than a move towards equality in the other direction.

  35. CLamb October 10, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

    Does the school allow teachers to snatch personal papers from a students hand? What rights does a public school student have to be secure in his person and papers?

  36. Andy October 10, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

    @CLamb Just out of curiosity, is there a school system where the teacher does not have such right? At least unofficial?

    That being said, ACLU wrote this: “when she [teacher] playfully tried to take it from him, he tried to hold on to it. Even though all the witness statements said that the teacher was joking around and Kyle didn’t act aggressively, the incident”

  37. Warren October 13, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

    A teacher can request a student hand something over. A teacher is no different than any other person, and cannot physically assault a student. Therefore, the teacher grabbing for the paper was in the wrong, as the teacher made the first aggressive move.

    But until parents band together, and fight the schools, it is only going to get worse.

  38. hineata October 14, 2013 at 12:36 am #

    @Warren – pulling the papers from a student’s hands is hardly assault. In fact, having a teacher up for assault for taking papers from a kid’s hands smacks of helicopter behaviour – totally ludicrous. Smacking the student over the head with a bat while trying to get the kid to hand over the papers – now that would be assault.

    However, ditto that the kid tugging back and refusing to hand over the papers is hardly assault either, and certainly nothing that invites this sort of ridiculous punishment. A detention would have been sufficient, if indeed anything at all was required.

  39. Greg Allan October 14, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

    There is a far more precise predictor than race for this sort of treatment.

  40. Warren October 14, 2013 at 9:22 pm #


    I agree on the definition of assault. I was only going by the standards of this particular school. They are calling what the kid did assault, therefore the teacher who initiated the incident is guilty of assault.

    Even in general society the meaning of assault has been watered down to include so much crap, it isn`t funny.

  41. tory burch トリーバーチ October 15, 2013 at 3:59 am #


  42. jenniferjoy October 15, 2013 at 10:24 am #

    I totally and completely agree that the reaction is asinine, but to call it effective “house arrest” is a bit of hyperbole. My five homeschooled children (one now an adult and two teenagers) have probably spent a sum total of 8 hours of their collective lives in a public school building and are far from being under “house arrest”.

    And as Puzzled points out there are many different ways to homeschool – a number of which do not include a stay-at-home parent sitting at the dining room table all day with the child(ren). A good portion of our local homeschool group includes single parents or dual income households (including our own which consists of 1.5 incomes).

    What the school did was absolutely ridiculous, but maybe if we stopped thinking of the school building as the be all and end all of childhood we could be more effective in making major changes – after all, what is more effective than voting with one’s feet?

  43. Amanda Matthews October 22, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    Homeschooling does not have to mean that the parents take over what the teachers would have done – it means that you can use a system to educate that is much more efficient than what teachers in a school would do.

    So while the parents may not be able to teach a 14 year old biology using the traditional methods, they can certainly help a 14 year old to learn biology. Simply think; as an adult, out of school, how would I learn biology myself? I would find relevant materials in whatever method I best learn (if I learn best by reading, I find books; if I learn best by listening to someone talk, I find documentaries, recorded lectures etc.).

    I see school as much more of an “arrest” situation than homeschool. Apparently, you give up all your rights, as well as your child’s rights when you sign up; they go into a locked-down building every day, where you must get approval to visit them, and any personal papers are confiscated… sounds a lot like prison.