Yet Another Example of the Stupidity of Zero-Tolerance Policies

Via WRAL:  Lunchbox mix-up leads to charges for Sanford teen:

An athletic and academic standout in Lee County said a lunchbox mix-up has cut short her senior year of high school and might hurt her college opportunities.


This month, Ashley Smithwick, a soccer player who takes college-level courses, was charged with misdemeanor possession of a weapon on school grounds. She is no longer allowed to set foot on campus.


Lee County Superintendent Jeff Moss told the Sanford Herald that he can’t discuss the specifics of the case, but school policy allows principals to consider the context of each case and determine discipline.

Bottom line:  according to the story, she and her dad have identical lunchboxes and her Dad had packed a paring knife in his to slice an apple and she took the wrong one.  She then got caught up in a random search at school and the knife was found.

While the whole “context of each case” statement means that technically this is not an automatic “zero tolerance” case, it strikes me that that is nonetheless the way it is being treated (either that or there is a whole lot of information being left out here).

I can’t see that this is something that requires criminal charges and suspension for the remainder of one’s senior year, especially if the school system’s policy allowed for some leniency based on context.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Education, Quick Takes
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Jack says:

    Your post immediately preceding this one (regarding Tucker Carlson’s comments regarding how Michael Vick should have been executed for his crimes) shows the mindset that results in the type of stupidity you write about here.

    Welcome to the GOP States of America….

  2. Linda says:

    Zero tolerance needs to be rethought. The girl had never had a previous incident, her father even said “Hey, it’s a mix up, That was my lunch.” And still the school treats her like a street thug.

    Governmental mismanagement in actions.

  3. Alan Kellogg says:


    Zero Tolerance policies go back a ways before the previous (Republican) administration. Political allegiance has nothing to do with it, ZT owes more to control freaks and people refusing to take responsibility for their actions. In short, donkeys are just as apt to act like bossy little primates as elephants are.

  4. Peter says:

    Zero Tolerance policies are an outgrowth of Fear Number One, part of the Three Fears that define American fife:

    1. Adults are afraid of teenagers.
    2. Whites are afraid of minorities.
    3. Everyone is afraid of Muslims.