Children should not bring guns to school. That’s a fair rule.
No one wants a seven-year-old on the playground with a firearm. But, when school policies expand beyond the true purpose of safety, judgment goes out the window and kids get hurt.
Consider the seven-year-old, second-grader from Maryland who brought a Pop Tart pastry to school for a tasty treat during lunch. After taking a few bites, he noticed it looked kind of like a gun and exclaimed, “Look, I made a gun!”
He was suspended from school because of its “Zero Tolerance” policy about anything related to guns.
The boy’s parents noted that the decision reflected the school’s anti-gun biases and had nothing to do with safety.
Both gun rights and civil liberties advocates agree with the parents. They say the solution to eliminating zero tolerance policies is to register to vote and vote out those who fail to use simple judgment. Sounds like a good idea.
In June, another seven-year-old got into trouble. He was a first-grader from Pennsylvania who discovered he had a plastic toy gun in his backpack. It was an honest mistake. His mother accidentally handed him a different backpack that day because the boy left his normal backpack at a friend’s house the night before.
The boy, knowing the rules are “no toy guns at school”, went directly to his teacher and handed it over. Now, that’s a good, rule-abiding child exercising sound judgment while following the heart of the school’s policy. His reward? Immediate suspension.
In March, yet another boy – this time from Ohio – configured his finger and thumb in the form of a gun and said “boom” on the playground. He was suspended for three days.
The boy’s father, Paul Entingh, brought his son to the principal’s office the next morning where he was told by Patrice Price, the school’s principal, “If it happened again, the suspension would be longer, if not permanent.” Wow! Point your finger with your thumb raised, and get expelled from school.
Now, take the example of a West Virginia middle school student who wore an NRA-themed t-shirt to school that had an image of a gun and the words, “Protect Your Right”. The student’s teacher took offense to the apparel, even though there was no policy against such clothing.
The boy, Jared Marcum, was told to turn his shirt inside out, to which he refused, stating he had the First Amendment right to wear the shirt. School officials called the police, complaining of an “unruly student”. He was arrested. Police said his repeated assertion of his First Amendment rights constituted obstruction. He was also suspended for one day.
Jared wore the same shirt the day he returned to school, as did many of his student peers.
Zero tolerance. Isn’t there a massive movement to teach tolerance in schools? Racial tolerance, religious tolerance, sexual orientation tolerance, body shape tolerance, disability tolerance… these are all important things that schools embrace. Yes, tolerance is good, even if you may not agree with another person.
So, where does ZERO Tolerance fit in? Well, it fits in when a child’s safety is at risk (to himself or to others). No drugs. No alcohol. No guns. No knives. They all make common sense. No eating a Pop Tart so it looks like the letter L (or a gun if held sideways)? Seemingly, when it comes to anything possibly related to a gun, there is zero tolerance.
The examples around the country are never-ending.
A few years ago, Kyle Walker – a second-grader from New Jersey – drew a stick figure holding a water pistol and shooting water at another stick figure. He gave the drawing to his friend on the bus. His friend’s parents called the school to report the drawing. Kyle was suspended.
Also in New Jersey, four kindergarten boys were suspended for playing “cops and robbers” while using their fingers as pretend guns.
Zero tolerance should never trump judgment and sound decision-making by rational adults, particularly those we entrust to teach our children how to rationalize, reason, deduce and analyze information.
Now, children in schools across the country are being taught conflicting messages. “Be tolerant about every difference that exists between people”, but do not tolerate anything remotely related to a gun, gun rights, or organizations that support gun rights (because we don’t like them).
And, that is a problem. Teachers and administrators have an opportunity to teach children and demonstrate by their actions that every situation has its own unique set of circumstances. Educators should be teaching children about the one fundamental component of every situation: Intent.
What was a child’s intent when doing _________? That should be the leading question any educator considers when evaluating any situation in school.
It seems that civil liberties and civil rights are vehemently protected when it relates to any differences people have except for the difference of opinions with respect to guns and gun rights.
It appears that political views trump civil rights when it comes to zero tolerance policies, which is worrisome particularly when the right to free speech (wearing a shirt with non-hurtful words) is suppressed in the schools.
A Pop Tart. A t-shirt. A drawing. A game of cops and robbers.
Punish them all! By doing so, we will keep our schools safe, and teach our children what is right and wrong. Period.
Or maybe it’ll teach kids something far worse: That many elected school officials don’t care about fairness when it comes to something they themselves just don’t care about.
I’ve personally never shot a gun, but the more I hear about these ridiculous examples of how we treat and teach our children, I think about how fulfilling it would be to come to the school board office with a Nerf gun.
Vote them out.
The opinions expressed in this column are that of the author’s alone and do not reflect the opinions of American News Report. Doug Lynch is a father of a middle school-aged boy and a high school-aged daughter.
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