In another case of zero tolerance run amok, a 6-year-old boy has been suspended for bringing a camping utensil to school. It wasn’t a can of flammable sterno or a bottle of bear spray that got him in trouble. It was a spoon/fork/knife combo utensil used for eating. And despite the fact that eating is clearly what Zachary Christie intended to do with his spork, he is facing 45 days in reform school for violating his school’s zero tolerance policy on weapons.
Zachary’s mom, Debbie Christie, says her son recently joined the Cub Scouts and was so excited about his new spork that he wanted to use it to eat his lunch at school. Unfortunately,the Christina School District in Delaware is like many districts around the country in that it has a very strict code of conduct with little provision for the use of common sense.
The fact that the district’s code of conduct has any provision whatsover for the use of common sense is somewhat unusual. But last year, Delaware lawmakers tried to give schools some discretion in applying zero-tolerance rules by allowing them to “on a case-by-case basis, modify the terms of the expulsion.”
The problem is that Zachary was suspended, not expelled, and therefore the district has no flexibility in his case. Delaware lawmakers are working on a revised law that would fix that problem, but in the meantime little Zachary is being home-schooled while his parents fight the punishment.
There is a valid reason why teachers and administrators don’t use common sense when applying zero tolerance rules. It’s because they don’t have a choice. Zero-tolerance rules were created specifically to not allow common sense to come into play. They are inflexible by design and proponents argue that this is exactly how it is supposed to work. Punishing students for innocent mistakes acts as a deterrent to those who might have more nefarious ideas. But critics say that there is nothing to be gained by punishing innocent children and zero-tolerance is ultimately more harmful than helpful.
What do you think? Have we had enough of zero tolerance in our schools?