A bill by state Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur) takes a step in the right direction. His proposal, Senate Bill 299, would change the law to prevent what is now the automatic arrest or detention of a student at school without a hearing first when zero tolerance is violated.
SB 299 says “a child may not be detained or placed in shelter care prior to the informal detention hearing by virtue of a standing court order.”
Jones drafted the legislation last December after learning of a horrendous abuse of the zero tolerance policy in the case of 14-year-old Eli Mahone of Morgan County. The student voluntarily told school administrators he had left a 2-½-inch pocket knife in his backpack by mistake. Mahone, who had never been in trouble, was rewarded by being arrested and hauled off to a youth detention center on a “standing court order.” He was held there all night before he could have a hearing. Try to imagine how traumatized that young man and his family were.
“That court order should not have been in place,” Jones rightly said. SB 299 will allow “the school systems to reconsider their policies. There will be no reason to turn these kids in for these minor infractions.” Amen.
SB 299 should be a slam dunk. But it won’t do much for mindless enforcement of “zero tolerance” for minor or even imaginary infractions.