You’ve probably read or heard about this story. A six year old, first grader, brought a camping/eating utensil (that folds out into a fork, spoon, and knife) to school. The act was purely innocent, but the school has a “zero tolerance” rule that says the little kid is a menace and must go to reform school for a month and a half.
Remember when I decided not to tell my son’s school that he found an old, spent bullet on his playground? Yeah, this is the kind of reaction I feared.
You know, I can understand what causes a school system to implement a zero tolerance policy for bringing a knife to school. One kid brings a knife to school to show his friends the cool hunting tool his father gave him for his birthday. Another kid brings a knife to school to stick between the ribs of the guy who slighted him last week. Both kids say they weren’t intending any harm with the knife, so it makes deciding on a reaction difficult. It takes time and money to investigate thoroughly, and even with all the facts laid out, someone is going to scream over the result.
I think a zero tolerance policy is generally not the best policy, but I can understand, and even grudgingly accept it. (Any kid old enough to have a real knife should be old enough to understand when and where it is OK to have it, and when and where it is inappropriate — like school.) “Don’t bring a weapon to school,” is a clear rule that shouldn’t need more explanation.
But a big problem with a zero tolerance policy is defining the item prohibited. For instance: “weapon.” Is a knife in a eating utensil really a weapon? Check in the cafeteria kitchen and see how many “weapons” are there. A sharpened pencil could be a weapon.
There was a news story several weeks ago about a teenage girl who got strip searched over allegedly, possibly having Tylenol on her person. Really, is Tylenol “drugs” in the sense of our cultural “drug problem”?
I also understand that no one wants to be the one to identify or judge what is a weapon, or what is a drug. Because just like with prescribing punishment for a policy violation, someone is going to scream over the distinction.
And, sadly, if the school administrators rule that the knife in a camping/eating utensil is not a weapon, and the child carrying it should not be severely punished for carrying it, next month some kid at another school will bring one to class and cut someone with it.
But still, someone needs to stand up and make a statement distinguishing, “This situation is not like that situation.” And to support this kind of thing, reasonable parents and fellow citizens should stand up with and support the person taking the responsibility to make a reasonable judgment. We shouldn’t rely on lazy fixes like a zero tolerance policy.