Published by: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release date: June 2013
From the publisher:
Seventh-grader Sierra Shepard has always been the perfect student, so when she sees that she accidentally brought her mother’s lunch bag to school, including a paring knife, she immediately turns in the knife at the school office. Much to her surprise, her beloved principal places her in in-school suspension and sets a hearing for her expulsion, citing the school’s ironclad no weapons policy. While there, Sierra spends time with Luke, a boy who’s known as a troublemaker, and discovers that he’s not the person she assumed he would be–and that the lines between good and bad aren’t as clear as she once thought. Claudia Mills brings another compelling school story to life with Zero Tolerance.
When I was in school, I don’t remember “zero tolerance” ever being a phrase that was tossed around. At least, not for most of my school years. But I was a high school junior in the spring of 1999 when the nation was rocked by the Columbine tragedy, and things began to change. “Zero tolerance”, in regards to weapons and what constitutes one, has continually been a hot button issue. I’ve been a classroom teacher and I’m sympathetic to the school administrators who have to come up with a policy that protects the entire student body. Next year, I will send my oldest off to kindergarten and of course I want her in the safest environment possible. But we’ve also all heard of extreme cases where a child brings a “weapon” to school accidentally, or where the definition of a “weapon” seems overly strict. So how do we find that balance between protecting our children and not punishing a child for what truly is an innocent mistake?
Claudia Mills is the author of many chapter and middle-grade books, including 7 x 9=Trouble!; How Oliver Olson Changed the World; and, most recently, Kelsey Green, Reading Queen. She also teaches philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She lives in Boulder, Colorado. To learn more, visit her website:claudiamillsauthor.com
Claudia says: Thank you for hosting me today on Once Upon a Story, Maria! And thanks for the terrific suggestion for my post. Because one crucial scene in Zero Tolerance involves a letter Sierra writes to the newspaper, signing someone else’s name, I’m taking Maria’s idea and offering up a full editorial page of letters from some of the book characters, so you can see what’s on their minds. . . .
School stinks, and I don’t think kids should be made to go every day until they’re sixteen. I haven’t liked a single day of school since kindergarten or learned a single thing worth knowing. Well, until this week, I guess. I’m doing In-School Suspension (again), and I’m hanging out with this girl who I always thought was a stuck-up, goody-goody, rah-rah type, the kind of girl who would never end up in suspension. But guess what, she did. And she’s cooler than I thought. So, okay, I learned something this week. But what does it say about school when you learn more in suspension than you do in class?
As a concerned mother of a seventh grader, I write to express my worries about the direction our schools are heading these days. With so much high-stakes testing and rigid enforcement of endless rules, there is not enough time for students to develop their artistic and creative side. When budget cuts are threatened, it’s always the arts that end up on the cutting board. But frankly, I have never spent a minute of my adult life using a minute of algebra, whereas I try to fill every minute every day with music, visual art, poetry, theater. Isn’t it time for the arts to get higher priority in our children’s education?
There is all this huge fuss going on now about my school’s zero tolerance policies concerning drugs and weapons, and everybody is saying that nobody should be punished just for making an innocent mistake. I have to say I don’t agree. If you make a mistake, that shows you were careless, right? That you didn’t even bother to check whether you brought something to school in your backpack or lunch that shouldn’t be there? If you make a careless mistake on a test, you still lose points, just the way you would if you weren’t smart or hadn’t studied. Why shouldn’t you get in trouble for other careless mistakes? I mean, check your work, people!
The excellent reputation of Longwood Middle School has been tarnished this week by your one-sided coverage of the unfortunate incident of the honor student who brought an apple-cutting knife to school by mistake. Where in the media circus triggered by this incident is there any mention of the justification for zero tolerance policies regarding weapons and drugs: that they make schools safer places for students to learn? Is it unfortunate that a fine student is now being penalized for an innocent mistake? Yes. Would it be even more unfortunate if laxer weapons policies resulted in a fatal school shooting? The answer here also is yes.
Thomas Alford Besser, Principal, Longwood Middle School
I and 378 other students have signed a petition in protest of the proposed expulsion from Longwood Middle School of Sierra Shepard. No student should be penalized for a completely innocent mistake! The details of this particular case are not what is important, but the general principle. The most important thing in this case is not what happens to any one individual, such as Sierra Shepard, but the protection of our civil liberties as students!
This week a fraudulent letter was published over my name, making it appear that I oppose Longwood Middle School’s zero tolerance policies. I do not. For every student who is unfairly punished according to our school rules, there are a dozen other little darlings who are getting away with all kinds of completely inappropriate behavior. Believe me, I have worked in the office at this school for twenty years, and I know. It’s high time that our students were held accountable for their poor choices and punished to the full extent of the law.
Susan Lin, Longwood School Secretary
As a father and attorney, I demand an apology from Longwood Middle School for the unconscionable and illegal way in which our daughter has been treated by the school’s principal and staff in response to her completely innocent mistake. Thomas Alford Besser cannot continue to say with a straight face that he can conceivably think he has made this school safer in any way whatsoever by his ridiculously rigid enforcement of his school’s no-weapons policy. If our family does not receive an apology immediately, Longwood Middle School can expect to see us in court.
Gerald Shepard, Esquire
We think it is COMPLETELY UNFAIR that Sierra Shepard, who happens to be our best friend, is being punished for something so COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS! We can’t believe this is happening, except that it is! But it shouldn’t be! Sierra is WONDERFUL! WE LOVE HER! THIS SHOULDN’T BE HAPPENING TO HER!
Lexi Kruger and Emma Williamson
Why are you publishing all these letters about something as unimportant as school? Why don’t all these humans stop talking about rules and punishment and zero tolerance and find a soft cushion in a sunny corner of the house and take a nice long nap? That is my advice to all of them.
Cornflake the Cat
You’re intrigued, right? Because this is a must-have for both home and classroom libraries. Here’s your chance to win! Thanks to the publisher, I have a copy to giveaway. The giveaway will run from now until midnight on MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 23rd. U.S. Residences only. Good luck!
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