By Ron VandenBoom
The Rev. Jessie Jackson exited his limousine and deliberately crossed a police line at MacArthur High School in Decatur Ill last week so he could be handcuffed and taken to jail.
His stint behind bars was short lived however when authorities released him the same day.
Jackson's actions were aimed at drawing attention to his defense of six students expelled from the school for a year after allegedly taking part in a brawl at a Sept. 17, 1999, football game.
Jackson maintained the student's punishment was excessive and he objected to a lack of alternative education being made available to the six.
It was the culmination of several weeks of protests by Jackson and at least two marches through the streets of Decatur.
School officials stood fast against the Jackson onslaught and continue to insist that educating kids is their bottom line.
Parents too seem to be generally upset with Jackson using the Decatur controversy to support what they feel is his larger political agenda.
Jackson has also failed to find support with newspaper columnists who over the weekend pulled few punches when lambasting him for sticking his nose in where it didn't belong and being on the wrong side of the issue. He was also criticized for importing followers from outside Decatur to demonstrate.
Jackson has apparently eased the rhetoric and his last march was Wednesday, Nov. 17, but the story has once again brought into focus the whole issue of zero tolerance policies nation-wide. The fact of the matter is, most people, especially parents of school age children support them.
While we've all heard the stories of children who were expelled for bringing a fingernail clipper to school or taking an aspirin, the general consensus is that this is a good and necessary precaution to take in order to insure the safety of our children.
The time has long past when violence in our schools was easily dismissed as a school-yard squabble and the worst that could be expected was a black eye or a fat lip. Today the use of firearms to settle disputes has become almost commonplace and the school-yard squabble more closely resembles all our warfare.
While some believe the solution lies in more gun laws and legislators continue to try and solve the problem through legislation, it is the schools that in the final analysis have to deal with the problem now, today, and before any more deaths occur. It is the schools systems that have to explain to their communities why safeguards weren't taken or why a problems went unaddressed. It is the school system that has to explain why rules were not enforced or problems not recognized.
It is the school system that gets sued and it is the school systems that has to explain to parents why their children won't be coming home. It's the school system that has to provide the counselors for traumatized students and teachers and live with the fear in the aftermath.
Are school systems right for implementing zero tolerance policies -- yes indeed they're right.
While the politicians talk and the legislatures debate whether violent movies, too many guns or video games, are to blame, the school systems have to start each day knowing that today it could be their turn for tragedy to strike.
That being said, I want to stress that every tragedy brings the inevitable knee-jerk reaction that all too often does more damage than good.
A zero tolerance policy needs firm and immediate punishment for infractions, but it also needs to be fair and include a heavy dose of common sense.
Expelling a child for bringing aspirin to school, or having a child arrested for writing a English paper that earns and A but talks of killing other students, has removed the common sense from zero tolerance and resembles more the zero tolerance of an Adolf Hitler than a school system.
The public knows the difference, lets hope those in charge of our schools know it too.