772 Zero tolerance: A way of avoiding responsibility?


Tom Garrett 2 years, 8 months ago

Please read this:

"We need to be careful with any form of weapon ... that we are seeing more nationwide issues with violence and weapons. These issues whether we want to say Payson is isolated or not, I would disagree that it could not happen anywhere. And I would feel remiss if I say such. For me to keep the campus safe, I would want to make sure that I have in policy that support."

A shotgun litany of excuses for a bad policy if I ever saw one!

That was Payson High School Principal Brian Mabb talking. He was trying to justify a rigid school policy which requires ANY instance in which something in the possession of student could be conceivably be defined as a "knife" to result in a call to Payson PD, and the treatment of the incident as a criminal matter instead of a school matter.

How would I characterize that policy?

I would call it an attempt on the part of a person who was hired to by the school board for the purpose of making decisions to avoid that responsibility by creating a one-size-fits-all policy that allows him to avoid doing an important part of his job.

It may be easier to handle everything the same way, but that does not make it right.

By writing a policy which eliminates all flexibility between the handling of an enraged or out of control student and one who has simply made some form of dumb mistake, a policy which does not discriminate between a genuinely lethal weapon and a plastic toy, a policy which carries the same penalty regardless of the circumstances, the object involved, or the intention of the child is so self-serving that were I on the school board Mister Mabb might be seeking employment elsewhere.

My question to him would be, "Why do we need you if there is no room in your polices for a decision? A low paid clerk can read, and follow, one-size-fits-all policies."

What we need in our schools today — just as we have always needed them — are men and women who are capable of dealing with the day-to-day foibles of education, the minor lunacies of children, and the differences between teens and adults. We need someone who knows when to be stern and when to chase the kid back to class and laugh about it. That's what we pay for, and that's what we deserve.

We do not need people who come up with self-serving, one-size-fits-all school policies which waste the time of police officers who have better things to do, which traumatize innocent children, which likely result in the dislike or distrust of law officers by kids who must be handled by them as potential criminals, and which embarrass parents over matters which could in the overwhelming majority of cases be handled without fanfare.

I agree with the board members, who seem to have had serious concerns about an ironclad, straitjacket, no-room-for-judgment policy.

I would send that policy back for a rewrite.

How do you feel about it?


John Lemon 2 years, 8 months ago

Tom, Please read my post on the "Education" section for another aspect. The Roundup article also stated that the PHS policy is actually a state education policy. The Roundup went on to state that the Board adopted the policy. If all of the above is true, perhaps Mr. Mabb was put on a spot and spoke undiplomatically and may have misrepresented his past actions. Not having a record of discipline events at PHS, I can not know. To further discuss your remarks, I agree that to administer discipline with "justice" a principal should have discretion. The decisions about whether an item is a "weapon" or a "tool" is an example. Other examples are decisions about "intent" and danger to others. In some circumstances the rule breaker is a youngster who has made an error and ought to be chastised in order to learn proper behavior but not treated as a criminal. In other instances perhaps the student ought to be "counseled" and sent to class. The Principal is legally charged with acting in place of a parent when a student is under the control of the school. I doubt that a proper parent would normally consider a nail file, plastic knife, etc., to be a weapon and telephone the police.


Tom Garrett 2 years, 8 months ago


As always your comment here was a low key, well-informed summary of possibilities, and I will respond to it with the respect and consideration it deserve, and perhaps clarify matters a bit, as you will see.

Also, although I make it a policy to never read the other forums because I like them to be places for reader-only comments, I read your comment there. But in accordance with what I believe is a good policy I won't comment on any specifics of it. Hope you understand.

Anyway, you've given me enough right here to keep me busy for a while. :-)

Interesting thoughts!

First of all, if Brian Mabb was put on the hot seat and had to respond to a series of questions, and may have been talking off the top of his head, it just may be that I owe him an apology.

John, I re-read the article carefully and did not see a comment stating that it was state policy that was being reviewed. What I read about the policy was that it was Brian's policy, that it was too strict, that he was defending it, and the board accepted it because he convinced them it was correct.

Again, if I am wrong, if that was not the scenario, and if something very different happened, I stand ready to be corrected. And why not? It's the truth that's important, isn't it?

I've done something to clarify a few points in your post. I hope they help.

First of all, regarding this: "...I agree that to administer discipline with "justice" a principal should have discretion."

I disagree, but only to agree even more strongly with what you are really saying: ...I agree that to administer discipline with "justice" a principal [MUST] have discretion."

No principal can operate unless he is free to make on the spot decisions within the state law, and is able to exercise his carefully considered opinion of what is going on. That's exactly why we put a man or woman in charge of a school, and it's why they are often unusually capable individuals who are very different from the average run of the mill individual.

That's exactly why I was so shocked to see what was apparently a situation where a zero-tolerance policy which wiped away all discretionary powers of the principal was under discussion (if, in fact, that is what happened).

I'll post some facts which may help this discussion. Can't do it all in one post though. Read on....


Tom Garrett 2 years, 8 months ago

First of all, the state law on this issue is very rational, and very well thought out. I'll have to take up a bit of space to show that, but it's well worth it.

Here are the applicable school board responsibilities regarding what has to be reported to local law enforcement:


15-341. General powers and duties; immunity; delegation

a. 31. Report to local law enforcement agencies any suspected crime against a person or property that is a serious offense as defined in section 13-706 or that involves a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument or serious physical injury and any conduct that poses a threat of death or serious physical injury to employees, students or anyone on the property of the school. This paragraph does not limit or preclude the reporting by a school district or an employee of a school district of suspected crimes other than those required to be reported by this paragraph. For the purposes of this paragraph, "dangerous instrument", "deadly weapon" and "serious physical injury" have the same meanings prescribed in section 13-105.


That is so sensible it sounds like something that may have come from the national association of states, where such policies are often discussed. It is specific, but leaves plenty of room for rational interpretation.

What I'll do next is put up the applicable parts of 13-105 mentioned above.


Tom Garrett 2 years, 8 months ago

Okay, we are out of Section 15 (education) at the moment and are into criminal law:


13-105. Definitions

  1. "Dangerous instrument" means anything that under the circumstances in which it is used, attempted to be used or threatened to be used is readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury.

  2. "Deadly weapon" means anything designed for lethal use, including a firearm.

  3. "Serious physical injury" includes physical injury that creates a reasonable risk of death, or that causes serious and permanent disfigurement, serious impairment of health or loss or protracted impairment of the function of any bodily organ or limb.


Again, those definitions are VERY well written. They focus on "circumstances," "use," "threat," "lethal" result, the type of injury, and a host of decision points, all of which leave great room for discretion in the hands of the decision maker.

Finally, I'll put up the non-criminal punishment for student actions, going back to Section 15.


Tom Garrett 2 years, 8 months ago

Here is what the state has to say about the handling of students who are guilty of a serious offense of some kind:


15-841. Responsibilities of pupils; expulsion; alternative education programs; community service; placement review committee

B. A pupil may be expelled for continued open defiance of authority, continued disruptive or disorderly behavior, violent behavior that includes use or display of a dangerous instrument or a deadly weapon as defined in section 13-105, use or possession of a gun, or excessive absenteeism. A pupil may be expelled for excessive absenteeism only if the pupil has reached the age or completed the grade after which school attendance is not required as prescribed in section 15-802. A school district may expel pupils for actions other than those listed in this subsection as the school district deems appropriate.


Okay, that's it. That's what the state has to say.

That is so far from some one-size-fits-all "zero tolerance" policy that it could not be possibly be any farther from one.

It is rational, reasonable, and fair, and it leaves the decision-making authority right where it belongs — with the man on the ground.

The only question I can see remaining is where that zero-tolerance policy originated and why in heaven's name anyone ever wrote it.


John Lemon 2 years, 8 months ago

Tom, Please return to the article and note paragraph one : "... face suspension and possible arrest, according to a state policy the school board adopted this week ...." Perhaps the reporter was not correct in stating that it is a state policy? Why would the Board adopt such a policy when they have such misgivings unless it is a state requisite? If that was the circumstance, I refer to my thoughts on the "Education" string and ask whatever was this Board thinking? Why would they not ask questions in the public meeting and then make a motion to send the non-adopted policy to the Superintendent for further work? I also have concerns over the policy as adopted and agree that in most circumstances the administrator needs room to take into consideration varying factors without blindly (!) labeling a child/young adult a criminal. Bringing a gun, or explosive, or drugs is one thing. A plastic knife is quit another. Someone has to investigate and assign significance and that is the job of administration.


Pat Randall 2 years, 8 months ago

First of all inanimate objects do not kill or harm people unless by some freak accident. People harm and kill people using the objects. If the school is going to stop things that could be considered a weapon see my list. No fingernail files, no baseball bats, no car mechanic wrenches, most shop tools, no hammers, saws. No jack handles in vehicles, No shovels, pitch forks in the FFA area. A back pack full of heavy books swung at someone's head could be a weapon. Hands are weapons if used to choke someone.

See how stupid all of this looks on paper.

Teachers should keep an eye on their students, they should be able to tell who the trouble makers are and watch them very close. First time a student is threatening or hurts someone they are out of the school district permanently. No matter who their parents or guardian may be. No back packs on any school property. Do you realize how many problems can be hidden in them?


John Lemon 2 years, 8 months ago

Tom, A thought just crossed my mind : perhaps the state has decreed that a discipline policy be adopted but not a specific policy such as we are discussing? When the reporter said something about adopting according to state policy, perhaps it was a confusing or incorrect sentence? Not withstanding, I stand behind my statements as to how the meeting was handled and how the Board acted.


roysandoval 2 years, 8 months ago

Just a clarification relative how policy comes to be. Policy is derived from statute. In most cases, ARS 13 Criminal Code and ARS 15 Education Code. These statutes are reviewed by attorneys for the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA). The ASBA attorneys draft policy that will align districts with the statutes (law). The ASBA then distributes those policies as templates to districts, specifically the Superintendent. The Superintendent then reviews each policy in light of the local district. At this time, the Superintendent can modify the wording to accommodate local circumstances in the district. The Superintendent then clarifies the policy along with ramifications for the Board and places it on the School Board meeting agenda for a "1st Reading" Basically so the board can review the policy and take public comment etc. The Board reviews the policy and asks questions, directs changes etc. The policy is then placed on the next month agenda for "2nd reading". At that time the Board may vote to adopt the policy and place it in the policy manual, or request further modification and have the policy placed on a subsequent agenda.
More succinctly, the State does not write the policy. The State writes the law via Arizona Legislature. Policies are derived from the law.


Tom Garrett 2 years, 8 months ago


You're right. The state requires that local schools boards create policies concerning a large list of matters; it then lays out the basic guidelines and leaves it up to the local board to fill in the details. The summary that Roy gave (thanks, Roy) details the process.

Mind you, John, I do NOT disagree with your premise that administrators should have decision-making authority; I applaud it! But I want to see them USE that authority, not create zero-tolerance policies, a knee-jerk reaction not based on professional handling of children.

My viewpoint of what happened at the board meeting was shaped in part by the fact that Brian was defending the policy. It was also shaped by this statement: "The principal said he calls the police each time to determine threat levels."

The statement that the police are involved "each time" is not what I expect to hear from an administrator who uses judgment in handling kids. If I were a PUSD parent and the principal involved the police about a pocket knife that had done nothing more than sit in a pocket by error I would go ballistic! But that's what "zero tolerance" means. It means you WILL be punished, not for your intentions, but even for a harmless error. Where's the "decision-making?" The purpose of "decision-making authority" is to USE it. That's what Pat is saying.

In answer to this question by Jim Quinlan, "but if you ascertain there was no threat at all? I mean do we even have to involve the police with something like a pocketknife," Brian's answer is stated as, "Mabb said he did not feel it reasonable for a student to be treated that way because of a plastic cafeteria knife, but he felt strongly about other weapons."

In other words, yes it is necessary to involve the police for any type of weapon. That viewpoint is contrary to the guidance offered by our Arizona state law:

15-341 "Report to local law enforcement agencies any suspected crime against a person or property that is a serious offense as defined in section 13-706 or that involves a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument or serious physical injury and any conduct that poses a threat of death or serious physical injury to employees, students or anyone on the property of the school."

That statute is crystal clear: "...any suspected crime against a person or property that is a serious offense..."

To reply that he calls the police because he, personally, feels strongly about anything other than a plastic cafeteria knife is a very self-revealing comment. It is, in fact, an extremist comment. Remember, he was replying to questions that even included a nail clipper.

And when he added, "We need to be careful of any form of weapon..." he was characterizing himself again. Read that word "any."

I am sorry, but unless Brian was misquoted, or unless his beliefs are other than the ones he seems to have stated, then I cannot in good conscience support his position.


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