It's one of the more-abused phrases plaguing public schools: "zero tolerance."
Weapons, drugs, fighting, what have you; public schools called to crack down on issues of safety and security have responded with stiff policies that sometimes seem a little short on common sense.
Columbia County isn't immune. But two incidents in the past week put a spotlight on how these cases are handled - and provide good examples for how getting tough doesn't have to mean being blindly stupid.
As sports writer Billy Byler reports in his column today, a Greenbrier High School athlete ran into what seems to be the lack of common sense in zero-tolerance drug policies.
A star football player, nothing more than a victim of his own forgetfulness, got busted for having aspirin in his bookbag.
Aspirin isn't exactly the drug of choice for dopers. The athlete took it, under doctor's orders, to help mitigate gametime pain from an old groin injury. But school policy is clear: Students cannot carry around drugs of any kind. If they need to take medicine at school, they must leave it at the front office during the day.
The policy is in place, in part, to prevent students from possessing drugs on campus. But it's also there to keep one student from dispensing what could be a potentially dangerous drug to another.
Still, there's room for common sense in such a policy - and it came into play when the system expedited a hearing and got the student back into school. It also shows there's room for improvement; in most cases, getting such a hearing could have taken nearly two weeks, far too long to leave a student suspended while awaiting what is, in effect, an acquittal.
Did this particular student get special treatment simply because he's a star football player? Whatever the case, the school system has no excuse the next time a parent likewise requests a speeded-up hearing for their accused child. While school officials might not have meant to set that precedent, it's a good one to follow.
Monday's brawl at Harlem High School is another example of tough policies in action.
Two young men brought a fight over a girl to school with them, and soon were joined by seven friends. No one was seriously hurt, and all the students were caught - and arrested.
You see, fighting is a violation of school policy, with punishments including suspension or expulsion. But unlike possession of aspirin, it also is a criminal act.
The brawling students will have to answer for the policy violations, but they also have to face criminal charges.
Not so long ago, such a dispute would been settled with a paddle in the principal's office, or in an after-school face-off.
That was then. This is now. And it's painfully important to point out that this intolerance for school violence isn't just a result of the notorious Columbine murders; it's also because of the fatal shootings, just 14 years ago, of two students and the wounding of a third - at Harlem High School.
Tough policies work. They work best if tempered with good judgment. While there are always details to disagree on, in these two cases Columbia County officials demonstrated pretty good judgement.
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