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Zero-tolerance, a dangerous word?

    I hadn't really thought much about the word "zero-tolerance" until I read about the controversy over the first grader suspended from school for bringing his Cub Scout eating utensil to school to use at lunch.

If you haven't seen The Times story or AOL's version, here's what happened: little Zachary Christie, 6, was excited with his new camping tool but now faces 45 days in reform school after officials determined the camping utensil he brought to school to eat his lunch with violated the school district's ban on knives. The utensil functions as a fork, spoon and knife. The school district says it has a zero-tolerance policy on weapons.

   Like school districts, many workplaces have zero-tolerance policies on weapons, too. As a parent, I instilled a zero-tolerance policy at my home this weekend to prohibit bad words. While zero-tolerance policies have tremendous upside, I am starting to see how they can be dangerous, too. When you can never make an exception, you must be pretty clear to all those who must abide about what violates the policy. If you have a zero-tolerance policy on weapons at your workplace, you better be clear about whether someone can bring a knife to cut a birthday cake (this incident resulted in a real lawsuit). If I have zero-tolerance for bad words at home, I have to be super strict when the policy is violated....will I be able to enforce my rule without exception?

Of course, bad words are way different from weapons. In South Florida, we have seen firsthand what can happen when weapons are brought to school. The community was outraged when a Coral Gables high school student was alleged to have been murdered with a knife by another student in the hallway last month.

    When it comes to safety and rules at work, at school, at home, is zero tolerance really the only way to go? Is it dangerous to set a policy where there are no exceptions or is it required in today's society?


 (Zachary Christie as he appeared in The New York Times)