School Zero-Tolerance Rules Go Too Far

It seems odd to say that a zero-tolerance policy for weapons in schools is excessive, particularly in light of cry for gun reform after the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Of course, guns weren't allowed at Sandy Hook or at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, or at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas. A zero-tolerance policy did nothing to protect the victims in those schools from gun violence. However, is violence prevented by making it a violation of school policy to simply point your finger like a gun? What if a student chews a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun? In both examples above, students have been suspended from school. In 2012, a 3-year-old deaf child was told that he would no longer be able to use the sign for his name, Hunter, because in sign language, his name looked too much like waving a gun. Last spring, an 8-year-old was suspended for two days after school officials say he gnawed his Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun. The boy says he was actually trying to chew a mountain, but even if he was trying to make a firearm-shaped pastry, the suspension seems excessive. And in February of last year, a 6-year-old boy was suspended for talking about a toy Nerf gun that his family bought on vacation. Now an Oklahoma lawmaker wants to make sure the same thing does not happen here. State Representative Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, says that zero-tolerance policies go too far, and she is proposing a bill that would prevent students from being punished for things like playing "Cops and Robbers"  or "Cowboys and Indians," for wearing clothing with images of weapons (like the crossed rifles on a Marine Corps t-shirt), or eating one's lunch into the shape of a pistol. It seems a little silly that we would need a law on the books to prevent such an occurrence, but Kern isn't the only one who is concerned about school policies becoming unreasonable in dealing with zero-tolerance for weapons and other problems at schools. The day before a local newspaper ran a story about Kern's proposal, United States Attorney General Eric Holder said that school districts need to revamp their "overzealous" zero-tolerance policies and to stop bringing the criminal justice system into matters that should be a school discipline issue. Last summer, Holder also decried mandatory minimum drug sentences, calling them "draconian" and saying that the federal government would no longer pursue low-level drug offenders, leaving those crimes up to the states to prosecute. In theory, a tough-on-crime approach sounds good and has a lot of public appeal; however, zero-tolerance and a one-size-fits-all solution has been a dismal failure, particularly in Oklahoma, where you can get life for hashish. Read more about Oklahoma gun laws, or learn more about the state's drug laws here.

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