Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

The Hired Girl

Laura Amy Schlitz

Zero Tolerance, Erin Cox, and Dr. Kevin Hutchinson, Ed.D.

Zero Tolerance, Erin Cox, and Dr. Kevin Hutchinson, Ed.D.

vote-to-winZero Tolerance Policy! Everybody knows what that means. So should Erin Cox have seen her punishment coming?

Erin is the North Andover High School student who decided to "do the right thing." Here's what she did, according to the Boston Herald: Scrambled into her car a couple of weeks ago to give an "intoxicated" (i.e. "drunk") friend a ride home from what sounds like one slammin' party. (Although not remotely as memorable as this party.)

That's all.

That would be the end of the story. Except for the fact that the police arrived at the same time Erin did and arrested everybody. Which is why the North Andover Public School District superintendent, Dr. Kevin Hutchinson, stripped Erin of her title as captain of the volleyball team. Lest the 17-year-old honor roll student miss the point, Dr. Hutchinson suspended her from five games, too.

Not because Erin Cox attended a party that night (she didn't). Not because Erin Cox drank alcohol that night (she didn't). No, Dr. Hutchinson said: Erin violated the district's zero tolerance policy, which prohibits scholar-athletes from possessing or transporting alcohol. More on that in a moment.

Zero Tolerance: It's Not Just a Bad Idea. It's the Law. (In some places)

A zero-tolerance policy responds to any infraction of a rule with an automatic punishment. The idea is to remove subjectivity from the enforcement of regulations—and, in the process, remove the potential for favoritism, bias, corruption, and the inconsistent observation of rules and laws.

Zero tolerance policies have been growing in popularity. They've grown in popularity as tool of criminal justice, where zero-tolerance laws enforcing the use and distribution of narcotics or zero-tolerance drunk-driving laws are now a staple of U.S. jurisprudence. They've grown in popularity in states that have implemented "three-strikes" laws that mandate life sentences for three-time felons, regardless of the seriousness of their crimes.  They've grown in popularity as a tool of management in workplaces, where fear of lawsuits from claims of sexual harassment and other forms of workplace discrimination have been met with zero tolerance policies that have stoked new fears, reasonable or not, of getting fired because of the mere fact of an accusation.

But back to the peculiar case of Erin Cox and Dr. Kevin Hutchinson, Ed.D.

Zero Tolerance Polices: The peculiar case of Erin Cox and Dr. Kevin Hutchinson, Ed.D.

On the district's website, Dr. Hutchinson issued a statement: “The rules for student-athletes strongly discourage students from engaging in conduct that is unlawful or fails to promote the health and safety of the youth in our community." Those rules are set by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association and prohibit student-athletes from possessing, consuming, or transporting alcohol. Nothing peculiar about that. What's peculiar is Dr. Hutchinson's interpretation of the MIAA's regulations.

Erin Cox did not possess or distribute any alcohol. And the only alcohol she was intending to transport was the alcohol in the bloodstream of her inebriated friend. Which means, by Dr. Hutchinson's interpretation, that MIAA regulations prohibit the transportation of alcohol that just so happens to be inside someone else's stomach.

Zero Tolerance: The simple solution for our complicated times.


Greetings from the superintendent

There's little evidence that zero tolerance policies actually work. With few (if any) exceptions, studies of historical data conclude that zero tolerance policies don't play a significant role in crime reduction. At the same time, many of those same studies acknowledge that most people who live in communities with zero tolerance policies believe that those policies have played a major role in crime reduction.

On the other hand, you don't need a doctorate in education (as Dr. Hutchinson has, from Boston College) to know that Erin was not, in fact, engaged in conduct that was "unlawful" or failed "to promote the health and safety" of anyone. Nevertheless, Dr. Hutchinson is standing by his guns.

Question: Does the zero tolerance punishment of Erin Cox make the North Andover community safer? Or is Dr. Hutchinson just taking the easy way out?

What's your take? Cast your vote here.

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