District 1 incumbent Dr. Bernice Brooks supports zero tolerance policies, and challengers Rob Cleveland and Terry Turner prefer a more reigned-in approach. District 3 incumbent Chris Gammon supports the policies, but said he appreciates common sense in punishments as well, and his challenger, Robert Pinckney, supports them in severe cases.
“There is a time and a place for zero tolerance, especially in suspension matters,” said Cleveland, a former head football coach for Villa Rica High School. “But I’m not for zero tolerance in expulsion matters because our job is to educate children and push them forward to graduation to make them productive members of society.”
Turner agreed with Cleveland, telling a story about a student at his daughter’s school who had shotgun shells in his truck bed from a duck hunting trip he’d taken with his father.
“That kid was suspended,” he said. “He wasn’t going to blow the school up or shoot anybody, but he got suspended. That doesn’t make sense to me. We’re going to give him the death penalty for not cleaning out his truck? I don’t think so.”
Brooks defended her support of zero tolerance policies, saying the board is required to provide a stable environment for its students.
“Because of drugs, weapons, bullying, terroristic threats and all the things that young people get into, I support zero tolerance,” Brooks said. “We are mandated to provide a safe, conducive environment for our students.”
Brooks tempered her defense by saying the policies should be equally and fairly administered.
“I want zero tolerance to be equally shared among all students,” she said. “Sometimes, administrators fail to implement the policy the way it should be for students they know. If we continue to do that, some of these students are going to fall through the cracks and something bad might happen.”
Gammon supports zero tolerance, but said common sense must be used when punishing students.
“Zero tolerance is part of our policies in our system, and unfortunately, it’s part of the environment we live in now,” Gammon said. “But where do we bring in common sense on punishment after zero tolerance policies? We have to use our common sense just like we do in the real world. We have to keep in mind what’s best for all the children in school, including the one involved in the incident.”
Pinckney said he supports the policies if they were put in place by parents, teachers and administrators with input by the board.
“You have to have everyone under the tent in order to effectively utilize the policies,” he said. “When it comes to drugs or weapons, I don’t think anyone has any discussion about not being able to bring these things to school.”
The former superintendent from Long Island, N.Y., shared a story he’d heard that took place in Colorado.
“There was a 5-year-old child in kindergarten who said to a classmate, ‘I’m as sexy as I can be,’ and that child was suspended,” Pinckney said. “I think that’s where the policy fails. There’s another way of addressing problems if you have concerns with what your students say.”
Pinckney said providing a safe school environment should be imperative to the board.
“Our job as teachers and principals and the board is to provide a safe and secure school for all those people who enter and leave it on a daily basis,” he said.
Cleveland said alternative schools, like Carroll County’s Crossroads Academy, are for these types of situations — where a kid who has done something wrong can stay in school.
“It’s counterproductive to take a kid out of school and put him on the street,” he said. “All that does is put a menace to society on the street. Unless it’s a matter of breaking the law, I’m not for having a kid on the street.
Cleveland said students should be given second chances if they make a small mistake.
“There kids will make mistakes,” he said. “I made them. I’m not for the death penalty for a 15-year-old.”
Turner echoed Cleveland’s view.
“I’m for zero tolerance when it really matters,” Turner said. “But misdemeanors are misdemeanors. Kids make mistakes, and they’re not adults. They should not sacrifice and be thrown to the wolves if they make a small mistake.”
In the District 1 election, voters will decide among incumbent Brooks, Cleveland and Turner. District 3 residents will vote for either incumbent Gammon or Pinckney.
Current board members Denise Askin-Pate (District 4) and Bart Cater (District 6) are also running for re-election, but are running unopposed.
Polls open at 7 a.m. July 31.