Zero-Tolerance Policies...How far is too far?

Discussion in 'General Education' started by gutterballjen, Oct 12, 2009.

  1. gutterballjen

    gutterballjen Comrade

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    Oct 12, 2009

    October 12, 2009
    It’s a Fork, It’s a Spoon, It’s a ... Weapon?
    By IAN URBINA

    NEWARK, Del. — Finding character witnesses when you are 6 years old is not easy. But there was Zachary Christie last week at a school disciplinary committee hearing with his karate instructor and his mother’s fiancé by his side to vouch for him.

    Zachary’s offense? Taking a camping utensil that can serve as a knife, fork and spoon to school. He was so excited about recently joining the Cub Scouts that he wanted to use it at lunch. School officials concluded that he had violated their zero-tolerance policy on weapons, and Zachary now faces 45 days in the district’s reform school.

    “It just seems unfair,” Zachary said, pausing as he practiced writing lower-case letters with his mother, who is home-schooling him while the family tries to overturn his punishment.

    Spurred in part by the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings, many school districts around the country adopted zero-tolerance policies on the possession of weapons on school grounds. More recently, there has been growing debate over whether the policies have gone too far.

    But, based on the code of conduct for the Christina School District, where Zachary is a first grader, school officials had no choice. They had to suspend him because, “regardless of possessor’s intent,” knives are banned.

    But the question on the minds of residents here is: Why do school officials not have more discretion in such cases?

    “Zachary wears a suit and tie some days to school by his own choice because he takes school so seriously,” said Debbie Christie, Zachary’s mother, who started a Web site, helpzachary.com, in hopes of recruiting supporters to pressure the local school board at its next open meeting on Tuesday. “He is not some sort of threat to his classmates.”

    Still, some school administrators argue that it is difficult to distinguish innocent pranks and mistakes from more serious threats, and that the policies must be strict to protect students.

    “There is no parent who wants to get a phone call where they hear that their child no longer has two good seeing eyes because there was a scuffle and someone pulled out a knife,” said George Evans, the president of the Christina district’s school board. He defended the decision, but added that the board might adjust the rules when it comes to younger children like Zachary.

    Critics contend that zero-tolerance policies like those in the Christina district have led to sharp increases in suspensions and expulsions, often putting children on the streets or in other places where their behavior only worsens, and that the policies undermine the ability of school officials to use common sense in handling minor infractions.

    For Delaware, Zachary’s case is especially frustrating because last year state lawmakers tried to make disciplinary rules more flexible by giving local boards authority to, “on a case-by-case basis, modify the terms of the expulsion.”

    The law was introduced after a third-grade girl was expelled for a year because her grandmother had sent a birthday cake to school, along with a knife to cut it. The teacher called the principal — but not before using the knife to cut and serve the cake.

    In Zachary’s case, the state’s new law did not help because it mentions only expulsion and does not explicitly address suspensions. A revised law is being drafted to include suspensions.

    “We didn’t want our son becoming the poster child for this,” Ms. Christie said, “but this is out of control.”

    In a letter to the district’s disciplinary committee, State Representative Teresa L. Schooley, Democrat of Newark, wrote, “I am asking each of you to consider the situation, get all the facts, find out about Zach and his family and then act with common sense for the well-being of this child.”

    Education experts say that zero-tolerance policies initially allowed authorities more leeway in punishing students, but were applied in a discriminatory fashion. Many studies indicate that African-Americans were several times more likely to be suspended or expelled than other students for the same offenses.

    “The result of those studies is that more school districts have removed discretion in applying the disciplinary policies to avoid criticism of being biased,” said Ronnie Casella, an associate professor of education at Central Connecticut State University who has written about school violence. He added that there is no evidence that zero-tolerance policies make schools safer.

    Other school districts are also trying to address problems they say have stemmed in part from overly strict zero-tolerance policies.

    In Baltimore, around 10,000 students, about 12 percent of the city’s enrollment, were suspended during the 2006-7 school year, mostly for disruption and insubordination, according to a report by the Open Society Institute-Baltimore. School officials there are rewriting the disciplinary code, to route students to counseling rather than suspension.

    In Milwaukee, where school officials reported that 40 percent of ninth graders had been suspended at least once in the 2006-7 school year, the superintendent has encouraged teachers not to overreact to student misconduct.

    “Something has to change,” said Dodi Herbert, whose 13-year old son, Kyle, was suspended in May and ordered to attend the Christina district’s reform school for 45 days after another student dropped a pocket knife in his lap. School officials declined to comment on the case for reasons of privacy.

    Ms. Herbert, who said her son was a straight-A student, has since been home-schooling him instead of sending him to the reform school.

    The Christina school district attracted similar controversy in 2007 when it expelled a seventh-grade girl who had used a utility knife to cut windows out of a paper house for a class project.

    Charles P. Ewing, a professor of law and psychology at the University at Buffalo Law School who has written about school safety issues, said he favored a strict zero-tolerance approach.

    “There are still serious threats every day in schools,” Dr. Ewing said, adding that giving school officials discretion holds the potential for discrimination and requires the kind of threat assessments that only law enforcement is equipped to make.

    In the 2005-6 school year, 86 percent of public schools reported at least one violent crime, theft or other crime, according to the most recent federal survey.

    And yet, federal studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and another by the Department of Justice show that the rate of school-related homicides and nonfatal violence has fallen over most of the past decade.

    Educational experts say the decline is less a result of zero-tolerance policies than of other programs like peer mediation, student support groups and adult mentorships, as well as an overall decrease in all forms of crime.

    For Zachary, it is not school violence that has left him reluctant to return to classes.

    “I just think the other kids may tease me for being in trouble,” he said, pausing before adding, “but I think the rules are what is wrong, not me.”


    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/12/education/12discipline.html?_r=1

    I'm a firm believer in not having weapons in schools, but I think this crosses the line. He wasn't even using the knife! I can only imagine what this boy is going to to through if/when he returns to school. What do you guys think of this?
     
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  3. stephenpe

    stephenpe Connoisseur

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    Zero tolerance presupposes that teachers and principals
    are stupid and cannot make correct decisions. Much like all
    the scripted teaching materials. Lets just be automatons and
    let policy tell us always what to do. Yes, a knife could get someone in the eye, and a pencil would even be easier to put there along with sticks outside. Common sense is almost removed from schools anymore. I remember the day our perfectly good stainless steel slide on the playground suddenly became dangerous and was removed for a new plastic one. Kids slid down that slide for 25 years without incident. Can you say litigation.:|
     
  4. GoldenPoppy

    GoldenPoppy Habitué

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    Too often zero tolerance means zero brains. That baby was just excited about being a Scout and using the tools that the big kids use. He wasn't a threat.

    The adults he is dealing with, however, are a threat to critical thinking skills.
     
  5. kcjo13

    kcjo13 Phenom

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    Ridiculous. If the state of Delaware has given districts the ability to reduce a "sentence", then why haven't they?

    How long before we are not allowed to have such "weapons" in school as...

    scissors?
    pencils?
    pens?
    glue? (in the eye, ouch)
    rulers?

    All weapons, if used in such a manner.

    FTR, the mother's website is, as far as I can tell:
    http://www.cafemom.com/journals/read/1537824/Helpzachary_com
     
  6. 3Sons

    3Sons Enthusiast

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    I agree with all of this. ZT policies lead to absurd results, especially in a system where the standards of proof and due process are lowered.

    A tangent, but I disagree. Scripted teaching materials do not assume teachers are stupid any more than movie scripts assume actors are stupid. Following a teaching script accurately and well actually is likely more demanding than following an acting script.
     
  7. **Mrs.A**

    **Mrs.A** Comrade

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    I was reading the blog and some people are saying the mom knew he took the utensil to school.. I don't see where the article says she knew he took it to school.
     
  8. CanukTeacher

    CanukTeacher Comrade

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    What difference would it make if she knew he took it to school? Really why on earth would a knife be forbidden in the first place?
     
  9. karebear76

    karebear76 Habitué

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    I think this is totally too far. The CBS evening news had the family on tonight, and the mom said that he was so excited to have this utensil, and that he often ate dinner with it at home. I'm guessing she wouldn't have thought twice about it if she did know he was taking it.

    I would only report such an incident if I witnessed the student misusing the utensil.

    Where on earth has our common sense gone?? 45 days in reform school??? give me a break.

    We had a K pull the fire alarm the other day, which carries a punishment of up to 10 days suspension. The admin assistant was going to do 3 days out of school, but principal intervened and gave him 2 days of in school. You really have to take the age & maturity of the child into consideration. I'm sure our K student was just trying to see what happened with the red switch that says pull. Just like this kid was just trying to use his new tool that he was so proud of getting b/c of scouts. Totally a case of the punishment not fitting the crime...
     
  10. **Mrs.A**

    **Mrs.A** Comrade

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    Because the people on the blog were judging the parents.. Saying they had no common sense for letting their kid take it to school. There's a chance the parents didn't know.. If my son asked me I wouldn't allow him to take something like that to school.
     
  11. CanukTeacher

    CanukTeacher Comrade

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    I certainly don't see an issue with a kid bringing something like this to school. It is cutlery that one eats with. It isn't a weapon any more than anything that is sharp is a weapon (a compass is more of a weapon). So I'm sorry but I think that one should teach kids not to bring a knife one eats with to school is insane. To me it is the equivalent of watching my friends not let their 6 and 7 year olds play outside - a sign of an overprotective society.
     
  12. gutterballjen

    gutterballjen Comrade

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    I have to agree Canuk. We can't protect our kids from every tiny thing in the world. We have to let them live or else they aren't going to be prepared for the way things are later in life!
     
  13. sue35

    sue35 Habitué

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    I agree this is horrible but what is worse is the explusion of the third grade girl for the birthday cake!!! How come we didn't hear about that, that is insane.
     
  14. 3Sons

    3Sons Enthusiast

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  15. kinderkids

    kinderkids Virtuoso

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    Why on earth aren't teachers allowed to use their professional judgement and discretion in situations like this? This is absolutely ridiculous. In my opinion, zero tolerance policies do not work.
     
  16. Sarge

    Sarge Enthusiast

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    The thing that really stinks is that the boy probably never got his knife back.
     
  17. maya5250

    maya5250 Comrade

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    Oct 14, 2009

  18. stephenpe

    stephenpe Connoisseur

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    HOORAY..........common sense prevails.
    Maybe there is hope.
    Lets chip in and buy him a new boy scout knife.
    I got two dollars (got paid today)
     
  19. MuggleBug

    MuggleBug Companion

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    I'm in the minority that thinks a zero tolerance policy is a good one. This kid might not have thought twice about his knife, but what's to stop another kid from bringing one in and sticking some other kid with it? I mean, did anyone really think they were gonna send this kid to reform school for 45 days?

    Then again, I'm also not likely to give my 6-year-old a pocket knife.
     
  20. 3Sons

    3Sons Enthusiast

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    A normal discipline policy?

    Yes. I think it because situations like this have occurred with similar results. I have no reason to believe that a district that is not acted on by outside pressure will not go ahead and do what they say they're going to do.

    ETA: Zero tolerance combined with the general lack of due process and loose rules of evidence that is the hallmark of most schools makes for an awful, awful combination. I don't even know what to call such a system, but it certainly isn't equitable.
     
  21. Ross

    Ross Comrade

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    I completely agree with you.
     
  22. Jem

    Jem Aficionado

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    I don't think it was a pocket knife-it was a boy scout untensil tool. If I'm not mistaken, they are usually very blunt, and hung on a ring so that all your silverware is there and doesn't get lost. We have several in our camping kit, and I HATE eating with them because they never cut-think sporks from the cafeteria.

    These have the Boy Scout logo on them, so maybe they are the official utensils. The fork looks sharper than the knife, and I have to say I've brought my silverware in my lunch many times-would a child be suspended for bringing a fork to eat their tuna casserole with?

    [​IMG]
     
  23. kinderkids

    kinderkids Virtuoso

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    Another example of Zero Tolerance. I think teachers need to be doing what they get paid for: TO THINK and make critical decisions concerning the children they teach. This was locked up and kept in a locked car in an emergency kit. Common sense isn't so common I guess.
    Eagle Scout suspended
     
  24. CanukTeacher

    CanukTeacher Comrade

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    It is almost comical that the debate in the US is so different from in Canada and the UK. This is the type of 'weapon' argument that is happening in the UK and Canada. It just makes the idea of arguing over a scout knife (which is WAY less dangerous) seem insane. Should a weapon with meaning be allowed is an argument worth having. Should a eating utensil be allowed just seems so silly to me. To each his own I guess.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/art...xcluded-school-wearing-ceremonial-dagger.html
     

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