Completely missing the point

© 2018-Atascadero News

In response to Ms. Rabourn’s column “Response to Fonzi column,” Atascadero News, February 9, 2018” I have to say she spent a lot of time on a single anecdote. The article was not a news story and the point of the anecdote was to illustrate the absurdity of zero tolerance policies and the “nanny state mentality” that governs so much of our social discourse. The facts concerning the incident in question as Ms. Rabourn reported them are disputed by other sources, but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt for her good intentions. By the way, the articles I used as background for the anecdote pictured a photo of a “Pop Tart” shaped like a gun. I’ll write that one off to my gullibility and actually still believing what I see is real.

Social scientists critical of such policies argue that in providing a “safe environment” in schools, educators should not sacrifice critical thinking and good judgment in their administration of discipline. It’s no small thing in the information age for a minor incident, even an innocent mistake, to follow a student for decades, denying them opportunities and memories never to be recovered. Simply “following the rules” is a lame excuse. We pay educators to think, or at least we used to once upon a time.

Sadly, there are all too many incidents of absurd application of zero tolerance policies against otherwise exceptional students, such as the Fort Meyers, Florida valedictorian denied the right to graduate with her class because while helping her mom to move, a kitchen knife slid under her car seat. Discovered by a roving school security officer, she was (according to most versions I’ve read) arrested, booked and charged with felony possession of a deadly weapon on school property. The charge was dismissed due to lack of evidence she knew the knife was present but she was still denied the right to graduate from school with her peers. 

What a great way to show kids that if you work hard and obey the rules life can be good, except don’t make any mistakes, intended or otherwise as the system will crush you. We had our own incident a few years back in Templeton when a student left his hunting rifle in his vehicle within 500 feet of the school, forgetting to put it away after a weekend excursion. If I correctly recall, it was discovered by school staff; the Sheriff was called and things for the student went downhill from there, though I’m not aware of the final outcome. My sense of firearms says leaving a weapon unattended was really dumb since securing a weapon is bred into me. Yet, he’s a kid. What happened to simply telling him to take it home and don’t come back until tomorrow when we’ll discuss your detention schedule for being stupid on a Monday? I greatly sympathize with teachers and the burdens society has placed upon them but I can’t help but wonder what are the local school boards thinking?

On other bright notes, the Atascadero City Council met last Friday and Saturday for an extended strategic planning session to focus their efforts for the coming year. While many topics were discussed one item mentioned in passing concerned the State Legislature further impeding self-governance of local communities. It seems that the State is again considering prohibiting cities from effectively managing their homeless population by stripping the local police of any ability to restrict where and under what circumstances the “homeless” population may camp, sleep, sit, park vehicles and other things in public. In brief, the Sunken Gardens could become a homeless campground and Atascadero Lake Park and its environs an RV park for indigent RV gypsies. I’ve seen this in Portland, Oregon where after 6:00 pm the homeless are permitted to camp anywhere they choose in the downtown area as long as they depart by 6:00 am. Portland night-life and foot traffic for restaurants et al must be interesting, especially for young women who I’m sure feel not at all threatened by the new sidewalk residents.

I’m not unsympathetic to the truly homeless, the victim of circumstances, the mentally disabled cast-offs with no support but I draw the line at the semi-professional con artists who work the sympathies of the public. There are more than a few of those and more are arriving in Atascadero all the time. Atascadero does much for the disadvantaged; we’ve had the ECHO shelter for years when SLO, Paso and other cities did nothing. However, this is a problem that is growing and posing an increasing financial burden upon the City. It will also impact any future economic development to keep our community fiscally alive. If the State handcuffs our police from providing a comfortable environment for all of our citizens to use parks, sidewalks and parking lots without fear of being accosted, Atascadero’s quality of life will nosedive like a submarine. So too will our nascent burgeoning downtown revitalization.

More In Opinion