When “zero tolerance” policies are set, they are intended as statements of toughness and resolve. Instead, such policies often scream stupidity and injustice, given that they are blind to nuance and circumstance.
A bill now in the State Senate Rules Committee would offer a welcome change away from “zero tolerance” policies in schools, giving administrators in Georgia more latitude on handling disciplinary cases involving weaponry in their schools and on their campuses.
The legislation was proposed by Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), who drafted the bill after a friend’s son in Morgan County was handcuffed and jailed after accidentally bringing a knife to school. The student actually turned the knife in himself after realizing he had brought it. He then had to attend an alternative school before being allowed back into school in Morgan County.
Of course, most guys I know have a pocketknife. It’s really not a big deal. If it stays in a kid’s vehicle, I don’t see it as a problem. However, if a student walks around the school parking lot with a machete in hand, that’s an entirely different scenario. “Zero tolerance” rules can put one kid with a pocketknife in his console and a knack for fixing things in the same boat as the imbalanced fellow who wants to be Crocodile Dundee with his classmates. One student should face a weapons charge. One should be asked to leave his pocketknife at home. Of course, administrators can always make bad decisions, but I’d prefer to have someone with an understanding of context and character issues make such calls, rather than policy makers who aim for political points through “tough” zero tolerance provisions that hogtie rational judgments.
According to reporter Ernie Suggs of The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Jones’ bill “would prevent any kind of standing court order that mandates that a student be arrested or jailed immediately without a hearing; ban the charging of a student as a designated felon, unless he used a weapon in an assault or brought a gun to school; and give judges more discretion into how they handle cases.”
That sounds like sensible legislation to me.
I certainly don’t want to see kids bring guns to school, as some may like. I don’t want kids to feel they can bring any weaponry, such as knives, into the classroom. But if you have a pocketknife in your pocket, and you turn it over to your teacher, you sure as heck shouldn’t be cuffed and forced out of school.
School safety should always come first. But sanity shouldn’t be sacrificed in the process. That’s why I have little tolerance for “zero tolerance.”
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.
A teenager driving to school with rifles, shotguns, or whatever, displayed on a rack in the back window of his/her truck, obviously needs more guidance from his/her parents. Whether he/she gets it or not, he/she certainly doesn't need to be allowed onto school property with such things.
A 5th grade Boy (or Girl) Scout with his/her first all-in-one pocket knife needs a little different treatment. (Of course, in this day and age, he/she probably shouldn't bring it to school either, but such boys and girls are proud of these things and may sneak it in....)
I firmly believe in extreme minimal tolerance, but some kids just aren't mature enough to understand the gravity of what they are doing....a pocket knife on a middle-schooler is most probably innocent, most of the time, but should be punished and corrected within reasonable limits. A teenager with guns in the vehicle needs to be counseled, and punished harshly.
Having said that, I still say one-strike is only fair. Communication with the parents is essential, and cooperation from the parents must be mandatory. If there is another episode of any sort related to weapons, after any child and their parents have been warned, then I say do whatever is necessary to protect the other children within that school system.
ZERO tolerance only promotes anger and discourages understanding, and a chance at offering help if a child needs it from outside the family.
I agree My child brought a knife to school at madison county school and it was handled very well. I was called and me and my son had a looong talk about it he did not mean to take it to school. It was in his back pack after a weekend of camping. The school admin did the right thing by calling me and letting me handle it. This rule could have been taking a lot farther and got out of hand. I thank madison county for being understanding and in a normal state of mind and not head hunting.
I believe that Zero tolerance foolishness is a product of at least three factors: 1.) Public Administrators (especially in education) are just naturally risk averse. See what happens to the students involved in an attacker/victim scenario. If the victim tries to defend himself in any way, what happens? Both are punished equally. No determination of who attacked is factored in. Too difficult to investigate and judge 2.) Our lawsuit culture produces more of 1.) Nobody's boss is happy with lawsuits to be defended and 3.) Our PC culture. If you investigate and render judgments, someone will be offended. Those offended quickly turn their perceived loss into a racial/gender/ethnic matter. More hassle and more lawsuits. It's much safer hiding behind the stupid zero tolerance rules.