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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sanity Finally Reigns in Delaware

The six year old who brought his Boy Scout pocket knife to school have been given a reprieve. He won't have to go to reform school for 45 days after all.

A Delaware first-grader who was facing 45 days in an alternative school as
punishment for taking his favorite camping utensil to school can return to class
after the school board made a hasty change granting him a reprieve.

Zachary Christie had brought his pocket knife, spoon and fork utensil to school after receiving it from the Boy Scouts. The school had a zero tolerance policy against "weapons" in school and when this utensil, which has a knife in it, was noticed by a school official the madness began.

The strict code called for a fifteen day suspension and then 45 days in reform school. This was of course laughable and more importantly terribly cruel and troubling. There's no evidence that Zachary was violent or a problem child. In fact, all evidence is that Zach is a good kid. It's clear he didn't think this was a weapon and nor did he plan on using it as such.

The policy, however, was cut and dry and left little room for wiggle room. Only after a national outrage that featured his story on most of the news channels and newspapers did the school board "spring into action". While the punishment has been reduced, it's still now between 3-5 days for any kindergartner to second grader who either brings a weapon to school or commits a violent offense. I assume that still means that Zach would still receive at least a three day suspension, though I believe he's already served that. This sort of a punishment also leaves the same school district with little wiggle room if there's a child his age that really does do something violent and disturbing. They too would face a punishment of no more than five days.

These sort of hard and fast rules have clear problems and this case exposed many of them. The solution may have relieved this particular case but likely opens up problems in other situation. One would think that the teachers and administrators that deal with these students each and every day could figure out how to treat an individual situation. The case with Zach could have been resolved by a person in authority confiscating the knife and then simply explaining to Zach that while he didn't mean to do anything bad with it that it could still be dangerous and he shouldn't carry it in school. Instead, Zach was threatened with 45 days of reform school and it's not entirely clear just how much he was damaged by the situation.

Next time, a really violent first grader will be let off with only 5 days suspension because there's a new policy that also limits the manner with which they can deal with that situation. Sanity reigned in this case but what will happen next time.


traderrob said...

It can also go too much the other way. My wife is a substitute teacher in rural Illinois and recently had a 4" knife pulled on her by a student (3rd grade). He wasn't playing but was rather threatening her with it. The incident was reported and absolutely NO action was taken. It appears that extreme positions, one way or the other are the rule.

mike volpe said...

I also think that incident like the one that happened to your wife that aren't dealt with properly are in part what leads to zero tolerance because sometimes people feel as though the school can't be trusted to use discretion.

Anonymous said...

Zero tolerance, by its very definition, is simply a way for school to ditch its responsibility to exercise discretion.

Then again, I wouldn't want to have to face an army of uptight parents who all think their kid is too good for that school.

Rick Stephens said...

Ah, come now. The kid is obviously very much a threat who intended great harm. His weapon of choice not only good for attacking his victim, but eating his victim afterwards.

Joking aside, I will attend our next local school board meeting and find out if they have a 'zero tolerance policy'. If so, I will also ask how come they hire administrators so poorly qualified they cannot be trusted with these basic tasks of not only enforcing rules for safety, but educating our kids in the process. Zachary's treatment at the hand of his school's administrators was a travesty. I would hate to have my 4th grade son go through anything like it.