The Truth about Teenagers Today
Dana Heitner, 19, is the kind of kid you'd be proud to have: a straight A student, an Eagle scout, a gifted artist and all-around nice guy. But in fall 1999, when he was a senior at Madeira High School outside Cincinnati, he made a misstep -- at least school officials felt he did.
It was the fall semester, and his girlfriend was running for student body president. Heitner made a campaign poster for her, a funny one, he thought, parodying the movie Speed. He put it up on the door of a stall in the boys' rest room. It said that a bomb had been placed in the toilet and was set to go off if the weight on the toilet seat went below 50 pounds. The only way to stop it, the poster said, was to "scream as loud as you can that you will vote for [his girlfriend] in the coming election."
When school officials saw the clearly satiric poster, they thought it could be perceived as threatening, and because the district had a zero-tolerance policy that mandated automatic suspension for making threats, Heitner was suspended for ten days. Those days coincided with some important exams. As a result, his first-quarter grades -- the last ones to be sent off to many of the colleges he was applying to -- included a D in calculus, which, since he planned to major in engineering, was highly problematic. Heitner still graduated as valedictorian, but he was not accepted at the University of California at Berkeley, his first-choice school. Now a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin, Heitner questions the wisdom of zero tolerance. "These policies hurt students," he says.
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