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Zero Tolerance and 100% Common Sense : Educators Need Latitude in Weighing Intent, Danger When Applying Weapons Policy

One reason some parents give for sending their children to private school is better security. It is easier to learn free from worry that a classmate is carrying a knife or a gun. For schools unable to ensure that no students bring weapons on campus, the next-best policy is often the guarantee that anyone carrying a weapon will be expelled.

Automatic expulsion, or at least a suspension, is often the punishment imposed under the “zero tolerance” for weapons rules imposed by increasing numbers of school districts. The rules are a reaction to an increase in the number of students armed in the classroom; in some cases the rules are imposed before the problem occurs, specifically to see that it does not occur.

Although some educators have argued against expelling weapons-carrying students on the grounds that it merely transfers a problem from one school to another, there can be no place for weapons in schools. Still, in an elementary school, a policy of no weapons should be enforced with common sense.

A 5-year-old kindergartner, Tyler Palmer, was ordered to transfer to another school after he found an inch-long disposable razor blade near his bus stop and took it to school in Buena Park last month. Before the transfer, the child had faced expulsion, due to the zero-tolerance policy of the Centralia School District. The district requires that any student, including a kindergartner, who is caught with “weapons of any kind” be recommended for expulsion by the school board.

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The school bus driver who saw Tyler showing the razor to classmates sent him to the principal’s office at San Marino Elementary School. A spokeswoman for the family said board members told the family they did not think Tyler intended to harm anyone but they had to follow the rules. If that is the thinking, the rules should be changed to give more latitude to school officials and board members.

In the lower grades of elementary school, a student who picks up a razor or even an interesting-looking rock well could be driven by curiosity. Parents and teachers should spell out the dangers of weapons, and ban them on campus. But there ought to be broad latitude to examine circumstances and specifically whether “intent” to injure was present.


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