|Back to July Ed Reporter|
|NUMBER 198||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||JULY 2002|
The Cutting Edge of Zero Tolerance|
Draconian policies penalize students, parents
CENTENNIAL, CO - When seven 4th-grade boys at Dry Creek Elementary School were discovered pointing "finger guns" at each other on the playground during a game of soldiers and aliens, Principal Darci Mickle found them in violation of the school's zero tolerance policy. She quizzed them about whether their parents owned guns and then suspended them for the remainder of the day. They were required to serve a one-week detention during lunchtime recess, sitting in the hallway where they were teased and taunted by other students.
Following the incident, one parent reported that her son dreaded going to school. Another student developed stomach problems, and still another began complaining of headaches. None of the seven had previously been in trouble.
According to the May 13 Washington Times, the parents were angry that their children had not been given a warning to stop the offending behavior before disciplinary action was taken, and they objected to the grilling "about private family matters such as gun ownership." "It's none of [the principal's] business," asserted one boy's father. "If she wants to know that, she needs to ask me."
While Colorado law mandates expulsion for students who "carry, bring, use or possess a firearm or firearm facsimile at school," the Times pointed out that "nowhere does it mention fingers."
Locally, the Denver Post gave the Cherry Creek School District its "Doofus of the Month" award, and the Rocky Mountain News opined that "it is simply none of a principal's business whether a family owns guns."
Dry Creek students are now officially forbidden to point "finger guns," and school superintendent Monte Moses publicly supported Ms. Mickle's actions. Although there are no plans to soften the zero-tolerance policy, the school district did order Cherry Creek principals not to question children about family firearms.
At a hearing with school officials and local police, Hess's parents argued that their son was never in possession of the knife and had not known it was there. Nonetheless, school officials claimed the boy's action constituted a danger to other students and placed him in a disciplinary alternative education program. They recommended a one-year expulsion and possible placement in the Tarrant County Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program, which Hess's father described as "for hard-core, violent youth."
Although the original mandatory expulsion was upheld, the boy was allowed to return to school after spending five days in the district's alternative education program. The expulsion will not be part of his permanent record.
Schmidt was suspended, and school administrators recommended a one-year expulsion for possession of "a dangerous weapon." Then the school district provided the boy with a private tutor off campus for two hours a day at taxpayer expense. District officials advised the family that, if Chris admitted to committing "a crime," agreed to a psychological evaluation and took an anger management course, his expulsion could be reduced. The parents refused, and instead rallied the support of other parents and friends.
The incident received local publicity and news quickly spread over the internet. People from across the country emailed the media and posted comments on internet message boards protesting Schmidt's plight and offering their own bizarre examples of zero tolerance. In April, the Wisconsin Public School Hearing Examiner ruled that Madison school district officials had not proven their case and that Schmidt could return to school.
Rutherford announced April 8 that its lawsuit filed suit last year on behalf of Anshe Hedgepeth, then 12, who was arrested in Oct. 2000 for eating french fries in a Washington, D.C. Transit Authority subway station, will go to trial. (See Education Reporter, Feb. 2001.)
The suit charged the Transit Authority and the Metropolitan Police Department with constitutional violations including illegal search and seizure, and for having a discriminatory policy allowing different treatment for minors and adults. Children caught eating in the subway were taken into custody, while adults were issued citations. (The Transit Authority claims it has since revised its policy.)
Another factor, Lind wrote, is that "Everyone is terrified to challenge any policy that is justified by the magic word 'security.' To oppose Gestapo tactics in a school is to 'put children in danger.'"