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No room for acumen with school’s under zero tolerance

By   /   October 22, 2009  /   Comments

By now, most have heard the story of little Zachary Christie, the 6-year-old boy that brought a camping cutlery tool to school. The tool had a spoon, fork, knife, and bottle opener. He had used the tool to eat at home, and decided that it would be a great idea to bring to school and use it there too. The knife in the folding set violated the school’s zero-tolerance policy, and Zachary was issued a five-day suspension followed by 45 days in an alternative school. Zachary’s punishment has received national press, and the school has heard the outcry of citizens across the country.

Zachary is a Cub Scout. I am a Cub Scout leader and I have boys in the first grade (Tiger Scouts) in my den. Tiger Scouts are not allowed to carry knives to scouting events. In fact, that privilege does not come until the third grade and only after the Scout has taken the classes on proper knife safety and use. Scouting teaches a healthy respect for authority along with the other core principles of the program. I hope that Zachary does not lose his zest for Scouting, because it is an incredible youth development program.

I wonder if Zachary’s parents have taken the time to explain the rules of scouting and school. Responsibility begins at home. As a parent, though, I know that sometimes things get placed in a backpack without my knowledge. Just being a responsible parent is not always enough. My son is in the process of selling popcorn for the Cub Scout pack. (Contact me if you need some popcorn!) He has his eye on a Leatherman Tool for a reward prize. I’ve explained to him that he will not be able to carry the knife until he is two years older and takes the Whitlin’ Chip course. He understands, and he still wants that prize for his efforts. If he gets it, I’ll keep it out of reach until he takes the class and can comprehend the responsibilities that come with handling a knife.

If nothing else, this story demonstrates the absurdity of a zero-tolerance policy. What we have seen in the press appears to be an honest misjudgment by a 6-year-old boy, and the punishment does not fit the crime. Common sense gets thrown out of the window when zero tolerance policies are implemented.

After the story received national attention, a web site was established to support Zachary. The school board met to overturn the punishment and allow Zachary to return to classes. In fact, the Christina School Board voted to reduce the punishment for kindergartners and first graders to a suspension of three to five days.

One of the school board members, John Mackenzie, said that he was surprised that the school didn’t simply disregard the policy in Zachary’s case and use common sense, but that is the point of zero-tolerance policies. They were designed to take “thinking” out of the equation so that certain students would not be treated with favoritism. It is done, like so many of our great progressive ideas, out of “fairness.”

Not everybody agreed with board member Mackenzie, though. Jennifer Jankowski runs the special education programs at a New Jersey school and she said, “If we can’t punish him, then what about kids that did bring a weapon for bad things?” My answer to Jankowski is that common sense would still play a role. Judging students on their intent is just as important as judging them on their actions. In this case, the intent was to use the spoon to enjoy some pudding at lunch. What has happened to common sense in this country?

billwallerWritten by Bill Waller. Mr. Waller is a author and contributor local blog, Southwest Georgia Politics. He enjoys writing, traveling, and researching history. He currently resides in Albany, Georgia.

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