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Did Zero Tolerance Rules Push Fairfax Teen To Edge?

Josh Anderson had just finished four homework assignments. He did his laundry. He watched TV with his mother -- "House," which he had Tivo'd for viewing that night. He played with the dogs. Then, at his mom's urging, he went up to bed. It was 12:30, and the next day, March 19, was a big one: Josh was scheduled for a hearing that probably would end with his expulsion from the Fairfax County school system.

The Andersons weren't blind to what got Josh into this pickle. He had been caught leaving campus, going to Taco Bell with a friend. When the boys returned to South Lakes High in Reston, an assistant principal confronted them in the parking lot, smelled marijuana and had the car searched. This was the second time in two years that Josh, a junior, had been found with pot.

"I really have been working hard on this," Josh wrote to the hearing officers. "I can't believe I'm putting my parents through this now. I can't believe how selfish and stupid I've been. . . . I'm honestly going to try my hardest to fix this."

The Andersons were told that Josh would be barred from any regular Fairfax high school and might be tossed out of the system entirely. His parents were looking into private schools or moving.

But there would be no hearing, no new school, no more visits from college football coaches asking about Josh's talents.

When Sue Anderson went into her son's room the next morning, he was dead. Without a word to his girlfriend, parents, psychologist, coach or teachers, Josh Anderson, 17, had killed himself.

He left a note, just two lines. "Why does it have to be like this?" And, to his girlfriend, "I love you."

There is little anger in Tim and Sue Anderson's voices now. Waves of grief strike at random intervals. Their eyes water when they look up the stairs toward Josh's room in their house in Vienna. They don't want to sue anyone. They praise coaches and teachers at South Lakes who did what they could to help their boy. But they have come to believe that the system did Josh a terrible wrong, that the zero-tolerance mentality contradicts the goal of educating or helping an immature adolescent.

"No one can ever answer whether Fairfax County was responsible for what Josh did," says Tim Anderson. "But they pushed him closer to the edge than he needed to be." The parents know their son's often-silent manner masked emotional troubles, but he had been in counseling, both through the school system and privately, and no one saw this coming. The trauma of facing expulsion, the Andersons believe, was just too much for their son.

In Fairfax, possession of marijuana on school grounds means automatic suspension and a recommendation of expulsion. "There's no discretion at the school level," says Paul Regnier, spokesman for the system. "Virginia law requires that if there's possession of marijuana on school grounds, the student must be expelled unless there are special circumstances."

The Andersons' living room is a makeshift shrine to a boy everyone half expects to be there the next morning. Josh's football helmets frame the coffee table, which is crowded with his photos. A friend collected dozens of Facebook tributes and made a book for his parents. More than a thousand people -- many of them kids from South Lakes and Langley, which Josh attended before he was caught with pot the first time -- attended the funeral. The kids still come by, some just to sit in Josh's room. Some ask if they can take something to remember him by.

It can seem like mere chance that those kids are here and Josh is a collection of memories. (Sue is recording those at http://rememberingjosh.blogspot.com). "If they searched every backpack and car at Langley and South Lakes, what portion of the students would be suspended and sent to other schools?" Sue asks.

The county's survey of students from eighth to 12th grades suggests that the number would be large: 22 percent said they have used marijuana, 10 percent within the past 30 days.

Tim and Sue "don't in any way condone what Josh did," the father says. "It was totally boneheaded, and he should have been punished." But Fairfax's rules make no distinction between a kid who is using drugs and one who is dealing. The Andersons say a system that immediately escalates a case to the county level strips families and schools of the chance to work together to help a teen.

State law requires drug cases to be handled at the central hearing office, says Fairfax School Board member Jane Strauss. "The zero-tolerance structure is a response to the choices voters have made and to the huge outcry for dealing with drugs on school grounds. The tighter expectations used to be in the private schools. But starting in the early 1980s, there were much tougher rules in the public schools. Now, the toughest rules are in public schools, while there's more give in the private schools."

The goal, Strauss says, "is to save souls, to help kids get through adolescence." In Josh's case, which Strauss would not discuss, his parents say the counseling programs he was assigned to were helpful. But Strauss concedes that "I cannot say there are the very best therapeutic situations available for all children" in the system. "We try, but there are unfortunate tragic situations."

That, of course, is not good enough. Parents of kids who do wrong will always argue that schools should be at least as flexible and understanding of adolescents as we are of adults who commit similar offenses. And parents of other kids at those schools will always contend that those who bring drugs to school need to be dealt with in clear, strong terms.

The system's job is both to punish and to educate. Zero-tolerance rules make life easier for bureaucrats and lawyers, but they make no sense in the jumbled world of teenagers. Some kids are poisonous to their peers and need to be removed for the good of all. Others need an individualized blend of punishment, counseling and connection with the people who know them best -- in some cases, at their own school.

"I'm sure I'll ask myself what I could have done until the day I die," Sue Anderson says. "Maybe we could have done more, but the policies right now are one-size-fits-all, designed to get rid of hard-core drug dealers. It's too late for us, frankly, but are we treating these kids as we would like to be treated?"

By Marc Fisher |  April 5, 2009; 8:22 AM ET
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Comments

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Although 22% of FCPS high schoolers reported using marijuana in the past 30 days, your statement that that's how many would be suspended if all backpacks were searched was a huge stretch. The survey question was about useage in the last 30 days, not about bringing it on to school property. That would be an entirely different question.

Posted by: Annie3 | April 5, 2009 10:20 AM

The Wall Street Journal April 2, 2009 wrote an article titled "Lock 'em Up: Jailing Kids is a Proud Tradition" and it included the sarcastic term "kids of cash".

We have to fill the jails and make money with those jails- so grab a kid! That is what is going on in our small rural county.

The read the New Yorker titled "Hellhole" written by a Harvard medical doctor about solitary confinement and how it ruins the brain in more than 90 days. That solitary is a new concept since the 1980's and again it feeds the industry that likes to make money from imprisonment.

It costs $50,000 to lock up a person for 1 year and they come out mentally incompetent and a bigger danger to society.

We have to send the message to our politicians that we are not for this slogan "Tough love" which has about as much compassion as that other word "compassionate conservative" which turns out again to be another way to give money to those who elect politicians who you and I might now agree with! Billions of faith based initiative money ended up getting funneled to those who preach "tough love" while themselves getting convicted of various obnoxious criminality.

Speak up to our politicians - we want short sentences or none and we want more counceling and rehab in and out of jail.

Thanks for the tragic story.

Posted by: humanbeing | April 5, 2009 2:01 PM

Way off base again, Marc. Fairfax didn't push this kid to the edge, he did that himslef!

This zero-tolerance policy needs to be in place, not so much to protect the hop-heads like this kid, but to protect those kids who get introduced to this activity and the seeming impunity with which it's dealt.

Sorry he whacked himself, for sure. But he didn't need to be in school (especially after already having been caught!) with my kids or any other kids who are struggling in the face of the mainstreaming of marijuana as a "harmless drug."

Kudos to Fairfax for holding the line on this.

Posted by: vigilante1 | April 5, 2009 2:27 PM

When do we start the revolution and take out country back from these overzealous monsters running the schools, the government, and controlling our lives with out one iota of common sense or decency.

Posted by: mformica1 | April 5, 2009 2:34 PM

You quote Tim Anderson as saying:"No one can ever answer whether Fairfax County was responsible for what Josh did,".

I can answer that, and the answer is no. Josh Anderson was responsible for what he did, and if you want to blame someone who is living, blame yourselves.

Maybe I'm confused, so let me try to figure this out. His parents knew Josh had emotional problems, he was skipping school, had been caught at school with pot before, and now he was caught by the school again.

Am I missing something? He was caught by the school twice, but I didn't hear anything about the parents catching him with anything. Seems to me that Fairfax County was doing their job, and looks like the parents just want to blame everyone else.


Posted by: DSbethesda | April 5, 2009 2:35 PM

"But they pushed him closer to the edge than he needed to be."

Spare me. How many times do they think their kid should have been allowed to bring drugs to school, before being kicked out? It seems as if Josh had been dancing on "the edge" for quite awhile.

Its ridiculous for the Andersons to suggest that Fairfax was responsible in any way for the suicide of their admittedly "troubled" child.


Posted by: UpstandingCitizen | April 5, 2009 3:11 PM

For those who think that Fairfax is too rigid and acted too harshly in this case, consider this: Josh wasn't just using MJ with his friends away from school, he was bringing it to school! Why? Was he such a hophead that he can't go for six hours without a hit? Or was he sharing it to be 'cool?' In either case, would you want your kid sitting next to this guy in school?

MJ is an starter drug. A large majority of regular users move on to cocaine or heroin. Has everyone forgotten the heroin ring at Westfields that resulted in one teenager dying?

Finally, if you think that FCPS zero tolerance policy is harsh, then try taking recreational drugs with you to work some time and see what happens. High school is not too early to learn that decisions in life have consequences.

Posted by: hisroc | April 5, 2009 3:15 PM

If only it could end this way more often! Usually the problem people don't take themselves off the table without causing a lot of damage in the process.

Posted by: amturnip | April 5, 2009 3:23 PM

I notice your blog title in this case gets a question mark, but your Potomac Confidential item on the same subject does not:
"Unbending Rules on Drugs in Schools Drive One Teen to the Breaking Point"

A whole lot of temerity, Marc, to blame a suicide on a school policy...especially one that helps protect other young people.

Posted by: RealityCheckerInEffect | April 5, 2009 3:40 PM

I'm a little surprised by the negativity in the comments posted above. First, I feel horrible for the Andersons. Raising a child is very difficult and complex. There are no guarantees. To blame them neglects the fact that there are plenty of great parents who have kids that get into trouble (many of those kids are great kids). Their loss should not be trivialized or overlooked.

I've worked with children and youth in the mental health system. We don't offer a coordinated response to their needs, and we do a horrible job of educating parents about their options and ensuring that our kids get evidence based and effective interventions.

Thinking back on my own high school experience, I had friends who are now successful lawyers, business men, and scientists who went to the best colleges and graduate schools in the country and are now "successful" by any conventional standard. They all got high and went to school. I also know people who are now alcoholics and fallen on hard times who did the same.

It is clear that individuals are all very different. An individualized approach that involves a coordinated response from the players in a child's life is what is has been shown to be most effective (involving family, schools, mental health, and other community organizations). Zero tolerance policies, by their very nature don't mesh well with this type of scheme.

I don't know who to blame, and I think we should get beyond that question. A better question is how can we change the system to support better outcomes for our kids, whether they are in trouble or not.

My condolences and apologies to the Andersons.

Posted by: poppycock | April 5, 2009 3:53 PM

One must assume the comments here are representative of Virginians.

There seems little tolerance for a teenage kid who'd made some mistakes. What kind of people are you, who treat your own children this way?

Moreover, a number of comments indicate THEY'RE GLAD THIS BOY KILLED HIMSELF. So, who's the moral reprobate: this kid, or you Virginians who cheer his death?

The article states that the kid had accepted responsibility and was making efforts to correct his mistakes. Why isn't that enough for you bloodthirsty Virginians? Smoking marijuana is not selling marijuana. There's no evidence this kid was doing anything but using a drug which, frankly, is no more -- or less -- harmful than alcohol. This "gateway to other drugs" crap from the 1940s is just absurd. Alcohol is the gateway drug, if one exists at all.

I have coached college and high school athletes for over 30 years. If there's one thing I am sure of about these self-righteous posters, it is this: When THEIR own children get in trouble, they're the first ones to blame the teacher. These are always the parents who are so over-protective they can't allow their teenagers to solve their own problems. They stunt their own children's emotional development. Their children are smoking pot, too. If they're caught, these parents will deflect responsibility by blaming someone else like Josh.

Coaches today have a saying: "Kids really aren't that different these days; its the parents who are out of control."

The most-recalcitrant parents seem to always have the same mentality: They believe the world is divided into two distinct camps: "Good people like us" and "the rest of you, who are bad." When a teacher disciplines their child, the teacher immediately moves from "good like us" to "you bad people". These parents have no charity because they have no humility. They are hypocrites because this whole "I'm good, you're bad if you disagree with me" mentality is nothing more than a rationalization for their own irresponsible parenting.

Robert E. Lee was also a great educator. He would be ashamed to see the level Virginians have sunk to -- how they devour their own young to satisy their pride.

I will neither read nor respond to your further postings. It's just too disgusting.

Posted by: fred4945 | April 5, 2009 4:11 PM

FCPS didn't initially expel this kid, they excluded him and sent him to another school. He did it again and got caught again. I don't call that zero tolerance, I call it giving a kid another chance and he blew it.

Of course I feel bad for his parents but one must remember that suicide is the ultimate form of conceit. The only one you care about is yourself.


FCPS did its job. Maybe the parents didn't.

Posted by: mortified469 | April 5, 2009 4:32 PM

I really wish that people would stop responding as if Josh was somehow being unfairly targeted or persecuted. He knew what he was doing was wrong and was caught...twice...and FCPS followed long-established policy with regarding to punishment. Dozens, possibly hundreds, of FCPS students receive the same treatment every year, yet we do not hear about chronic suicides among this group. I feel for Josh's family, I really do, but there is probably a lot more going on here than they are able to admit or acknowledge.

Posted by: skipper7 | April 5, 2009 4:38 PM

Interesting that WaPo deleted the column and earlier comments - probably because most of them refused to blame the schools or the policy.

"No one can ever answer whether Fairfax County was responsible for what Josh did," says Tim Anderson.

The only person(s) responsible for what Josh did was Josh himself.

Kudos to Fairfax County for maintaining its policy while trying to get this kid straight.

Posted by: segeny | April 5, 2009 4:40 PM

More evidence that zero tolerance is synonymous with zero intelligence. I would echo many of the statements made by the coach above. Regardless of how one feels about prohibition (which lets face it is what we have in this country and its even more counterproductive than it was with alcohol) the solution here was help and parenting not expulsion.

Recreational drug users are not some far away evil other. Particularly when it comes to marijuana its around 40 percent of the population. I've also read studies that suggest that the majority of people born in this country since World War 2 try marijuana at some point. Is it fair that those few (and not so few based on our incarceration rates) who get caught doing what just about everyone does face these kinds of repercussions while everyone else gets away with it, gets old and socially conservative, then moralizes about it to the point of the government implementing outrageous and ineffective policies?

The real question here is should we punish kids for something that is very in the realm of normal adolescent behavior be it youthful indiscretion or just a part of growing up depending on your view? I'd love to see how some of these harsh oh so order loving people commenting on here would feel if it was their child. Because its not just in the inner cities and far away. Its everywhere. Have some compassion and common sense.

Posted by: nitrojunkie_20723 | April 5, 2009 4:51 PM

these antiquated draconian drug laws are without reason or merit.we've had three presidents who used drugs and somehow no one has asked them to take drug tests.this country doesn't have a drug problem,it has a character defect.it's run by a shady hypocritical cabal of elitist who see worldwide adventurism as a virtue,and smoking a joint as a crime.they should go to the far reaches of hell and relax.preemptively i might add.

Posted by: mccrayr9599 | April 5, 2009 4:55 PM

The degree of authoritarianism being expressed in these comments is alarming. Y'all sound truly comfortable with young people committing suicide if they're drug users. Have you no compassion for others? Have you no sense of humanity? Are you so completely blinded by your self-righteousness regarding drug use that you fail to see how trivial it is in comparison to death?

No commenter above, however, was more disgusting than amturnip with this gem:

________________________________________

If only it could end this way more often! Usually the problem people don't take themselves off the table without causing a lot of damage in the process.

Posted by: amturnip | April 5, 2009 3:23 PM
_________________________________________

Y'all should spend your time at Free Republic, you'd be right at home there with the rest of the right wing hardcore law and order, rah rah lock 'em up yahoos. It is because of this ridiculous war on drugs and the associated idiocy of policies like zero tolerance that the US now holds the distinction of locking up a larger percentage of its citizens than any other country in the world. This includes such bastions of freedom as China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

There is a terrific text that explains the entire authoritarian follower mindset. Perhaps Virginians would do well to read it ...

http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

This book is available for free online. It is the result of 30 years of studying authoritarian follower personality types. The author is Manitoba University professor Bob Altemeyer. He was encouraged to write this book by former Nixon White House Counsel, John Dean.

Posted by: kbman | April 5, 2009 5:00 PM

This "one size fits all" just plain doesn't work. These parents were working in conjunction with their school, the child's psychologist and the child to try to effect change and help him. They needed much more time obviously. This zero policy bullsh@t is just a way to not have the School central personnel have to use their brain and come up with creative way to help each child and keep everyone safe at the same time. Perhaps they could have come up with a way to only allow him to remain at his own school by having his parents drop him off and pick him up daily during a probationary period and literally bring him into the school and state they had searched his book bag and nothing illegal was inside. This would be embarrasing to most kids as well as extremely inconvenient to the parents, but the word would quickly spread and he could have stayed in school and remained on this earth. My heart goes out to these parents, his friends and teachers, all of whom I'm sure loved him.

Posted by: capone1 | April 5, 2009 5:21 PM

Would we be having this conversation if he came back to school high on crack, PCP, or heroin? Just because this generation of parents seem to think that marijuana is not a real drug (and they should be ashamed of themselves) the federal government does. And as an educator, I don't want a stoned kid in my class no matter what he's stoned on. FCPS didn't push this kid to take drugs or to kill himself. He made decisions, his friends made decisions, and his parents made decisions, and again these decisions had consequences. Why not just say a prayer for soul of this poor child, and stop looking for someone/ something to blame.

Posted by: talargain13 | April 5, 2009 5:44 PM

talargain13,

Thank you. I couldn't have said it any better. You sound like the kind of teacher we need more of. As for Coach Fred4945, well lets just say that I wouldn't want that guy anywhere near anyone's kids.

As to the assertion that marijuana as a starter drug is "1940's" discredited information, the data refute that. In fact, the real starter drug is nicotine, followed by marijuana, frequently followed by abuse of prescription drugs such as oxycontin, or experimentation with cocaine or heroin. The parents today who don't see marijuana as a dangerous drug don't understand that the pot that is out there today is 10-15 times more potent than the stuff they smoked in the 60's and 70's.

But, lets not lose sight of the real issue here. It is not whether or not this young man deserved his fate, whether or not his parents, his counselor, or the school authorities failed him or could have done a better job intervening in his troubled state.

The issue here is that Marc Fisher seems to think that FCPS should be held responsible for a suicide. Bullcrap, Marc. Exactly what should they have done differently with someone who had been caught bringing drugs to school, had been punished and moved to another school, and then did it again?

Tell us, Marc, would you feel differently about FCPS so-called 'zero tolerance policy' if Josh had been caught for a second time bringing a handgun to school?

Posted by: hisroc | April 5, 2009 6:14 PM

My younger brother committed suicide in a FCPS years ago. My heart goes out to the famly. However I must say that I doubt the anticipation of expulsion pushed this young man to kill himself. When teens commit suicide, they usually do it in a way, place, and time that they can be saved - it is a cry for help. If this young man had never attempted suicide before, it is my understanding of the studies that something else would have triggered this reaction in the future.

While I, literally, have pain in reading about this young man and his family, the system was not to blame for his death.

Posted by: OLDNOVA1 | April 5, 2009 7:06 PM

Tell us, Marc, would you feel differently about FCPS so-called 'zero tolerance policy' if Josh had been caught for a second time bringing a handgun to school?

Posted by: hisroc | April 5, 2009 6:14 PM

What a ridiculous crock! You equate bringing a joint to school with bringing a handgun? In thousands of years of human consumption marijuana is responsible for zero deaths. Recent studies have even shown that people who smoke more than casual amounts of pot actually have fewer emergency room visits than straight people, and far, far fewer than those who drink.

Meanwhile, we're in the middle of a public mass-murder epidemic. Your example was not only ridiculous, it was highly irresponsible, equating a relatively benign drug with an instrument of death.

Posted by: kbman | April 5, 2009 7:22 PM

Schools can enforce zero tolerance on drugs when they stop the ever-present vicious bullying, provide depression screening and adequate counseling and ensure teachers are not just going through the motions giving mind-numbing busy work to pacify the pressure from parents to see their kids be "successful." Anything less is irresponsible.

Posted by: vakamalua | April 5, 2009 7:38 PM

kbman,

You missed the point, but then that is one of the occupational hazards of smoking pot.

My point was that Marc's point of view on this issue is tainted by his liberal bias. Guns are evil; pot is harmless. Therefore, 'zero tolerance' of pot is oppressive, but the same treatment of handguns is good public policy.

Sorry, bud, but both pot and handguns are equally illegal in public high schools. If you want to ban one, then you have to be equally vigilant in banning the other. Anything less is hypocritical.

Posted by: hisroc | April 5, 2009 9:10 PM

hisroc,

Your point was perfectly clear. It is just inane, that is all. Also, your cheap shot at pot smokers is purely based in myth and ignorance.

Keeping deadly weapons out of schools makes a lot of sense to protect students and faculty from being killed. Having zero tolerance for possession of illegal substances is simply overreaction and counter-productive. Drug use by Josh and his friend was not going to result in ANY significant consequences for their classmates or teachers. It certainly wasn't going to put their lives in danger.

You speak of Marc's "liberal bias". Where in here does he make either claim you attribute to him, either directly or indirectly?

There is nothing in the article about guns, that is just something you threw in there and about which you presumed to know his opinion. The fact is that guns are neither good nor evil, but they can be used to commit some very evil acts. Such is simply not the case with marijuana. And to treat the presence of a small amount of marijuana as being somehow equivalent to the presence of a handgun is the HEIGHT of stupidity, ignorance, and anti-drug hysteria.

Treating vastly differing circumstances in the same manner because "the law says so" is not a virtue. This is the whole problem with zero tolerance policies. There is nothing hypocritical about handling marijuana possession in a different manner from handgun possession. In fact, it shows a sense of perspective and understanding of the relative threat represented by these two problems to do so.

Personally, I don't believe that zero tolerance makes sense for ANY behavior. I can see possible circumstances where an otherwise good kid might bring a gun to school for what he perceives to be self-protection from bullies. And while this is not acceptable, to simply toss him from school and into the bureaucratic system may not be in anyone's best interests, particularly the child's. In this situation the fist question I'd ask is, did he bring ammunition? If so then I'd consider the case to be more serious than if the gun was unloaded and intended only to frighten his oppressors. In either case I'd seek mental health counseling for the child. Under zero tolerance these questions would be immaterial. There would be no judgment, no weighing of the circumstances, just a prescribed punishment.

Zero tolerance is an excuse for leaders to not lead and for responsible authorities to be irresponsible. It forces wise and understanding administrators to violate procedure to do the right thing, and makes it easy for the dumb and lazy administrators to muddle through their jobs, never having to make a tough choice or attempt to understand.

Posted by: kbman | April 5, 2009 10:39 PM

Kid was addicted mj. His aprents did squat. They want to blame everyone except the f ups who casued their kid's suicide.
Sorry I wouldn't want this dirtbag in class with my kids. Kid needed treatment for his addiction and the causes. Inpatient treatment but his parents were probably too embarassed to get their kid the help they need.

Back over 30 years ago I had a friend in high school who aced Alegbra II/Trig, Geometry, Functions and all the high level math classes in his Freshman year in 4 quarters. He also got a perfect 800 on his SATs, and a perfect score on his advanced placement tests. He started using pot and alcohol in the 11th grade and although he graduated Purdue magna cum laude with a phd in math he is now a homeless druggie. His pot use led to cocaine etc.

Dude pot isn't harmless look at Sean Penn.

Kid had pot on school grounds and he knew it was wrong. Pot isn't harmless bubba. And neither is alcohol when abused. However, drug dealers in HS these days ahve ties to gangs etc. It isn't like when we were back in HS and the son of marine colonel was your dealer.

His parents are to blame not the school. School did the right thing. Parents didn't.

Posted by: sheepherder | April 6, 2009 8:13 AM

"MJ is an starter drug. A large majority of regular users move on to cocaine or heroin"

People still actually believe this? "A Large Majority of regular users" do no such thing. Go back and look at the studies: they start with the hard drug users and work their way *back* to pot only to then exclaim that was the "starting point." Well, the fault in this logic is evident - where do you stop? Using that method, soda is a "starter drug" BAN SODA!

"Kid was addicted mj"

It is literally impossible to be "addicted" to pot, by any standard definition of the term.

Reading most of these comments, I'm actually kind of shocked. It's obvious this kid was troubled emotionally/mentally. He shouldn't have been at South Lakes, he should have been at an alternative school like Mt. View. That's why FfxCo has schools like Mt.View. They're not to blame for the kids suicide at all, but that doesn't change the fact that "Zero Tolerance" rules are useless.

The only point of "Zero Tolerance" rules are to appease idiots. Reading this thread, I'm not suprised by their popularity.

Posted by: VTDuffman | April 6, 2009 8:55 AM

Wow. The venom in some of these posts. He was a kid and kids make mistakes. While I don't feel there should not have been consequences for Josh's actions, ruining his life by expelling him for just smoking pot is a bit extreme. We're not talking about a kid selling drugs to his classmates, we're talking about a kid who was only harming himself.

We've all made mistakes in our lives, especially when we were younger, where the only person harmed was ourselves. Fortunately most of those mistakes didn't have long lasting consequences.

Re-reading the posts in this thread and I'm not sure if some of the responders are just trolls or the type of people so afraid if every little thing that could go wrong that we've legislated ourselves into a nanny state with limited rights so we can feel safe from the bad guys; you know, the type who live in Iowa but were fine with New Yorkers being searched on the subway so they in Iowa would feel safe from terrorists, regardless of whether New Yorkers were potentially having their Constitutional rights violated. Whatever happened to using the brains we were born with and looking at every situation individually? Get rid of these zero tolerance policies and let justice prevail.

Posted by: Mike8429 | April 6, 2009 10:02 AM

Frankly, I am shocked at many of the comments here. It is hard to believe that we live in such a heartless society.

Zero tolerence is based on the assumption that people cannot be trusted to make decisions on a case by case basis. Therefore, all decisions must be absolutely defined in the law.

So I wish you all luck when your kid crosses one of these zero tolerance lines that we have established. Don't think they won't, either, making mistakes is part of the learning process as we mature.

Oh, but I'm sure you don't worry because yor kid is "special", right??

Posted by: boomer5 | April 6, 2009 10:50 AM

amturner, take yourself and all of other perfect people who have never done anything "wrong" off the table and go to heaven to be with your fellow Gods. FCPS acts fast to expel kids for "infractions" that are perfectly legal for adults, like taking birth control pills, aspirin, etc. Adults can drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, steal millions from hard-working people through fraudulent schemes, and not be punished at all. What is your solution for that? My heart goes out to the Andersons. FCPS is to blame, it's obvious. They don't care, and neither do you.

Posted by: doggieforjustice | April 6, 2009 2:21 PM

So when I decided to click on the link sent to me on facebook to read the article written about my/our late friend Josh Anderson I wasn't expecting this sort of response at all.
I'm disgusted at the lack of humanity in many of these comments.
Can we all just forget for a second the article's title and come down to earth and realize that this was a kid's LIFE. Josh was a brother, and a son, and an athlete, and an amazing friend. Does it seriously cross some of your minds that because of this mistake that Josh, a generous and loving and honest to god KIND soul, made the right choice and you are happy that he is no longer with us?
And to many of the parents who posted on this article: I hope you realize that your children, whether you choose to believe it or not, are most likely engaging in some of the exact same things that Josh has. You can sit at home and pretend that your child just "isn't like that" or "oh no, not my _____" but you all are playing a mental game with yourselves and I think you would be happier if you lowered your bar of perfection and opened your eyes to the possibility that your child could be in a similar place. I do not want you to wake up one morning and be in the same position that the Andersons are in, but if that were to happen I know that your community members would mourn the loss and help you along. You would receive nothing but sympathy, and expect nothing less. And you most certainly would not be sitting at home saying "Sorry he/she whacked himself, for sure".
The article may raise a controversial issue but it's simple respect. So many people have been touched by this tragedy. Almost all would agree that Josh being into pot was a bad thing, that it was a mistake. We do not look for special treatment, or feel as if he deserved no punishment. But i think until you are in the position yourself you can't just say that the Josh's parents were irresponsible, or that zero tolerance is the only way. Because Josh isn't a statistic. He was a boy just like your own children who laughed and loved, and joked and yelled, he played and he hugged. There are many factors that need to be considered, and it is specific to each child. And i think if you were in the Anderson's place you would be LIVID that these strangers who don't even know your child could possibly have an opinion on the matter.
Please, cut the harsh remarks and ignorant sounding ideas. It's one thing to have an opinion but it is clearly another to disrespect the memory of Josh Anderson. All those who knew him would agree that he would have made a remarkable contribution to this world if he chose to stay, get through this, change, and just push forward.
We all love and miss him, especially that little smile.
Keep holding on Andersons, and any soul who was been touched by this.
RIP

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Posted by: Homeless-in-America | April 7, 2009 5:51 PM

It is quite evident emotions are running high on both sides of this fence. But where is the sensitivity? Regardless of who, what, and how; a child has died. Name calling and blame-shifting are uncalled for and just plain uncivilized. Tim and Sue, I didn't know you well, just from a distance. It doesn't matter, just know we are praying for you and your family during this incredibly senseless, heart-wrenching time!

Posted by: mose68 | April 8, 2009 2:52 PM

I extend condolences to the Anderson family, but I'm not convinced that the pending hearing caused the suicide. It may have been the final straw, which could have come at any time by way of any other means (break up with girlfriend, pressures of college apps...etc) I think the parents just want someone to blame.

I work in a school where a young man was suspended for drinking vodka from a water bottle. His parents blamed the school, saying that if the school didn't allow water bottles, then this wouldn't have happened. So what did our administration do? They banned water bottles. Schools can't win.

I think that many who parent teenagers these days do not take responsibility for parenting properly and do not hold their children responsible for their choices.

Posted by: bouncer | April 8, 2009 8:35 PM

It is terrible that a teen took his life over having marijuana on a school campus, and a CRIME that the school wanted to harm this boys future by expelling him rather than trying to help him through his problems.
A lot of kids do drugs in order to escape things in their lives. Whether it be parents, school, peer pressure, etc. If this was the 2nd time, what was the involvement of his parents in his life that they did not know he was still using drugs?
When children do drugs and you know they are doing it, you have to help them or they will continue and things like drugs lead to death and suicide.
It does not take a community to raise a child. It does take parents. We are all busy. When kids are at school, they are not the school's responsibility, they are still the parent's responsibility and in order to turn the youth of this country around, parents are going to have to set priorities, with their kids somewhere in the top 3.
Kids have to come first. Most teens run around and look like they need some kind of discipline. Many do not have manners and the ones that do have manners need to be monitored, good grades and manners does not get you overlooked when you grab your keys and go out the door on a Friday or Saturday niht.
Many teens are just allowed to do whatever they want and parents pay little attention to where they are, the people they are hanging out with, and what the are doing.
We, as parents, have to realize that we love and will protect our children, but others out here in this world will not and do not.
The school should have done something to approach the family in regard to getting this kid some help. I feel terrible for their loss. I also feel that if the school had tried to do something to help then this child might still be here today.
You have to use some tolerance with kids. I don't care how old they are. Teens especially need more time and more guidance or they will not make the right decisions and more than anything, they need their parents to be objective and firm in dealing with their problems. Listen, talk, discipline. They have to pay consequences for their actions as we all do, but the consequences should not make them feel like their life is over anyway so they should kill themselves.
The school does have a responsibility in trying to keep their students in school in order for them to be able to get an education to be able to then go to college and continue their education and to become productive memebers of society, not kick them out and make them feel like hope is lost because of a few bad choices.

Posted by: sandyeld | April 9, 2009 9:59 AM

Cause and effect assumption here seems pretty large, without more information.

What drives anyone to kill him/herself? We can never really know what goes on in another person's mind and soul. Think how often we are mysteries to ourselves.

Don't jump to policy conclusions without getting a fuller picture of Josh's life, and similar situations.

Posted by: why1201 | April 9, 2009 6:33 PM

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