Our Opinion: More common sense, please

Monday, February 13, 2006

A 6-year-old first-grader in Brockton, Mass., was accused of sexual harassment and suspended from school for three days after he put two fingers inside a girl's waistband.

The action by school officials in Brockton generated considerable criticism. A news report on the subject included a quote from a child psychologist who explained that a six year old is incapable of the thought process involved in an act of sexual harassment.

We all know that, don't we? Apparently not. The case in Brockton is not the first time a pre-adolescent has been accused of sexual harassment.

In 1996, a New York second-grader was suspended for kissing a girl and ripping a button off her skirt -- an idea the boy got from a book about a bear with a missing button. Earlier that year, a 6-year-old in Lexington, N.C., was separated from his class after kissing a classmate on the cheek.

This level of overreaction by school officials is rare and should not seriously concern us, but it raises the question - if there are school officials who resort to severe discipline for sexual harassment when the allegation is clearly ridiculous, how often do school officials overreact when such an allegation is not obviously untrue?

The severity of punishment should match the seriousness of the act, without being upgraded as the result of fitting into some category that is specifically targeted by a zero tolerance policy.

A single lapse of judgment should not be treated as a psychopathic condition. Actually, if there is a psychopathic condition, the student needs more than just discipline.

Even in the case of an adolescent, an isolated incident such as those described above would warrant no more than a lecture and a warning (a detention at most). Such an incident should be recorded and, in the case of repeated similar behavior, appropriately dealt with.

Too often, zero tolerance means zero common sense.