A number of incidents have occurred in schools this year that raise questions about the reaction, or over-overreaction, regarding discipline and weapons policies.
One weird case last week involved a 12-year old middle school student named Joseph from Rhode Island. A quarter-size keychain, which he won at an arcade, fell out of his backpack and another student picked it up. That student began showing it to other students when a teacher confiscated it.
Joseph, not the student who picked the keychain up and began showing it, was reprimanded and ultimately suspended. The school's zero tolerance policy states that suspensions are determined by the principal but the district also has a three member disciplinary committee.
Joseph's parents were told of the suspension by the school's behavioral specialist, and when they tried to contact the principal and superintendent, their calls were not returned. A brief statement released by the school said it was a student discipline issue and there would be no comment on any specifics.
The school handbook entitled "Serious Disciplinary Infractions" states: "Possession/carrying/use of/threat of use of a firearm or replica shall result in a recommendation for expulsion for a period of time up to one full calendar year."
Joseph's father said that the behavioral specialist told him his son was "lucky that he didn't get suspended for 10 days, or even worse, expelled."
Another strange case occurred in a public school in Virginia Beach. Two seventh graders were expelled for an entire school year for playing with an Airsoft toy gun called "zombie hunter" but the thing that made this case unusual is it reportedly happened on their OWN PRIVATE PROPERTY.
A school principal charged in his report that the "children were firing pellet guns at each other, and at people near the bus stop." He said that one child "was only 10 feet from the bus stop, and ran from the shots being fired."
The school claims its "zero-tolerance" policy on guns extends to private property. One of the mother's, who disputed the school's account of the incident, said her son does not become the school's property until he "goes to the bus stop, gets on the bus, and goes to school." She called the punishment unfair and that it will hurt her son's chances of getting into a good college after graduation.
Perhaps the craziest episode of the year regarding a gun policy occurred last March in a Maryland elementary school. Josh Welch, 7, was suspended for two days after school officials accused him of biting his breakfast Pop-Tart into the shape of gun and waving it around.
The school also charged him with saying "inappropriate things" like "bang, bang." A letter sent home to the elementary school's parents by the school stated that the student had been "removed from the classroom" for making "inappropriate gestures that disrupted the class."
The incident brought national attention and sparked new debate on what constitutes a threat among schoolchildren. It also energized a group of county Republicans who pooled their money and bought Josh a lifetime membership to the NRA. One councilman also volunteered buy Josh a membership for the American Civil Liberties Union.
We get the fact that the school shootings in recent years have raised gun awareness but each zero tolerance case should be weighed individually. A quarter-size arcade keychain can hardly be considered a gun "replica" and biting a breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun at most deserves a warning or a reprimand.
These infractions certainly don't reach the punishment threshold of warranting expulsion or permanently staining a student's record.
By Jim Zbick