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Education Reporter

Intolerable 'Zero Tolerance'
Beware of french fries, dodge ball
WASHINGTON, DC - Apparently, "Zero Tolerance" policies aren't just for schools anymore. Public transit systems, at least, are hopping on the bandwagon.

Rutherford Institute President John Whitehead's column (12-26-00) describes an incident that occurred after school on October 23, 2000, when 12-year-old Ansche Hedgepeth headed for the "Met-ro" (subway) station and home. On her way, she purchased an order of french fries and stuffed one in her mouth as she passed through the turnstile. A police officer stopped her, demanding that she "put down her fries and remove her backpack." He informed her that it was against the law to eat in a subway station, cuffed her hands behind her back, and proceeded to search her belongings. A nearby female officer questioned her about alcohol and drugs and patted her down.

Ansche asked an accompanying friend to call her mother at work. By the time the mother arrived, the child was already being transported in handcuffs to the police station. The girl was released into her mother's custody after 2 hours of waiting and questioning, but only when Mrs. Hedgepeth agreed to sign a form stating that her daughter would join the Boys and Girls Club. The mother was threatened that a warrant for Ansche's arrest would be issued if she failed to show up at the meetings.

Whitehead complained that adults caught eating in the Washington subways are given a warning or, at most, a $10 citation. "But," he wrote, "we're told that children, especially first offenders like Ansche, need to learn to respect the law and law enforcement officers." Whitehead said the metro police chief told Mrs. Hedgepeth that "juveniles in Washington, DC, must be taken into custody and cannot be given a citation," explaining that "this is our zero tolerance philosophy toward criminal activity."

Paper wad suspension 
While Whitehead made no mention of legal action in (as he called it) "the incredible french fry caper," the Rutherford Institute has been involved in other zero tolerance cases. Last August, Institute attorneys filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in New Jersey on behalf of a 4th grader at Upper Elementary School in the West Windsor-Plainsboro school district who was questioned by police, suspended from school and forced to undergo a psychological exam because he voiced his intent to "shoot" a classmate with a paper wad and a rubber band.

After nine-year-old Michael Parson was overheard telling a fellow student that he planned to "shoot a girl" with the "paper wasp," school officials called police - without contacting the boy's parents - and demanded that they investigate immediately. Law enforcement officials visited Michael's home in the middle of the night demanding to question him and forbidding his parents to allow him to ride the bus to school the next day. Instead, the family was forced to meet with school and police officials for an "extensive" interrogation, after which Michael was suspended pending a psychological evaluation.

The Rutherford complaint alleges that Michael's First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated, along with the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (he is black). Prior to his paper wad threat, the child's conduct had never required discipline.

Dodging dodge ball 
In what some observers are calling the most "ridiculous" example yet of zero tolerance, the elementary school game of dodge ball is under attack for "using humans as targets." The Cecil County, Maryland, school board is considering banning the game.

Judith Young, of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, told Family News in Focus that the object of dodge ball, "to throw things at the kids and hit them and thereby eliminate them from participation, is not consistent with wanting them to be participating."

Young's view has parents and some physical education teachers scoffing. "It's a good game because it can actually teach children some dodging and avoidance skills and some target skills," teacher Matt Pace told Family News. National Amateur Dodge Ball Association's Rick Hanetho added that it "seems silly" to pick on a childish game that uses a foam ball. "You virtually cannot get hurt by the ball, even if it's a point blank two- or three-feet away throw," he pointed out.

Many citizens wonder when the insanity will end. "Any school board which outlaws dodge ball should be fired on the spot and run out of the community on a rail," one observer said.

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