Local attorney calls for changes to ‘zero tolerance policy’

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A Virginia Beach sixth grader was back in class Friday after spending the earlier part of the week suspended. Her record is also purged of any events that took place this last week.

Bayside Middle School suspended Adrionna Harris after she took a blade from a classmate. She told her guidance counselor her friend was cutting himself, his arm was bloody, and it seemed like the right thing to do.

In the end, school leaders agreed she did the right thing.

Friday, Adrionna’s family was also informed the entire incident will be stricken from her record, but WAVY News 10’s Andy Fox wanted to know why it took so long to make that decision.

Critics argue zero tolerance has become too inflexible. Adrionna Harris and her mother both say after she was suspended, they got the feeling Bayside Middle School Principal Paula Johnson acted like there was nothing she could do, as though her hands were tied.

When WAVY News 10’s Andy Fox sat down with Adrionna and her mother, Rachael Harris, they told a story of a zero tolerance policy that eliminated human consideration.

“They were saying ‘we’ll take the suspension up at the hearing with the school board. It’s out of our hands.’ It was clear everything they told me was policy, policy, policy,” said Rachael.

Virginia Beach’s ‘zero tolerance policy’ states a student in possession of “…any weapon (which a razor can be) … shall automatically be recommended for long-term suspension or expulsion .”

‘Automatically’ is the key word.

“My opinion: zero tolerance takes common sense out of the equation,” said Attorney Kevin Martingayle. “To some extent it appears some of the school board policies tie the hand of the principal. I think the school board should take out any automatic trigger language, and let the principals make decisions on a case by case basis … they run the schools, and they should make the decisions.”

The Harris family says Adrionna never should have been suspended. There was a good reason for her to have had a razor on Bayside Middle School property.

Martingayle said it is up to the school board to set the policy. The Virginia Beach School Board is made up of 11 members who either did not return calls or had no comment.

“So the local school board can decide how much discretion they give the local principals … to do what they think is right, because they are in charge of their own school buildings,” said Martingayle.

Had Virginia Beach City Public Schools made the decision last Friday to keep Adrionna in class instead of suspending her, acknowledging she was possibly saving her friend’s life, then Adrionna would have been spared her week-long nightmare, and Virginia Beach City Public Schools would have been spared the embarrassment they suffered in the court of public opinion.

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