When schools take zero tolerance too far

Children, Education, Safety

From the time they start kindergarten until they graduate high school, the average American child spends nearly 12,000 hours in school. We hope—expect—that the schools are doing everything they can to educate our children and keep them safe.

Enter “zero tolerance” policies. Many schools have taken a hard stance against anything that might taint the learning environment or jeopardize the safety of our children. The results can be amusingly absurd, but it’s a bit sad how collective fear can override common sense.

Dangerous Pop-Tart gun

A second-grade boy was suspended from school after nibbling his Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun. Josh Welch was “removed from the classroom” for making “inappropriate gestures that disrupted the class.” The incident will remain on his record indefinitely.

“We’re definitely going to appeal to the board of education,” said the family’s attorney, Robin Ficker. “If this school can’t educate a 7-year-old without putting him out of school, how are they going to deal with 17-year-olds?”

Forbidden love note

Remember passing notes in school? Dreading that the teacher might intercept one and—gasp—read it aloud to the class? Well, confiscating notes has taken a far more serious turn.

A Florida fourth-grader wrote a love note to his first crush. It was a sweet note, according to the boy’s mother, about “how she wears the same uniform and how her eyes sparkled like diamonds.” When other students found out about the note, they started teasing the author about wanting to see the girl naked.

“That’s when the principal proceeded to tell me that it wasn’t appropriate that he was writing the note and that if he writes another note, they are going to file sexual harassment charges on my 9-year-old,” said his mom, adding, “My 9-year-old doesn’t even know what sexual harassment means.”

Invisible weapons violation

Ten-year-old Johnny Jones found himself in hot water when he “shot” his friends with his imaginary bow and arrow. That’s right, imaginary. The fifth grader reportedly broke his school’s zero-tolerance weapons policy.

After his friend pretended to shoot him with a “gun” (it was actually a notebook), Johnny responded by using his hands to draw back the strings of his invisible bow. The school principal informed Johnny’s mother, Beverly Jones, that her son had made a “threat” in class. Johnny received a one-day suspension for breaking the school’s rule against the possession of a “replica” or “look-alike” weapon. A weapons violation could follow Johnny for the rest of his life.

The dangers of apple slicing

While delivering a “healthy eating” presentation to his class in Bedford, Ohio, Da’von Shaw attempted to slice an apple with a knife. His teacher told him he was not allowed to use it, and Da’von immediately handed it over. Later that day, the high school student was suspended for a week for bringing a weapon to school.

No trespassing

When she received a “frantic” call from her child’s teacher, a Walnut Grove, Missouri, mother raced to her son’s classroom. The woman was buzzed into the school but failed to sign in. Alas, the school went into lockdown. Mom was taken away by the police and charged with trespassing.

No preventive “medicine” allowed

Poor Grace Karaffa. Her lips chap easily and even bleed when they aren’t continuously treated with lip balm. But the fifth grader will find no relief from her discomfort during school hours because, at Stuart Draft Elementary School, ChapStick is banned. The school lists ChapStick as a medication that requires a prescription—even though the stuff can be purchased at any Walmart, Walgreens, or general store.

Likewise, a San Antonio school forbids students to bring “toxic” sunscreen on field trips. A spokesperson for the district explained that the children “could possibly have an allergic reaction [or] they could ingest it. It’s a really dangerous situation.”

Killer burrito

At Weaverville Elementary School, it is against school policy to swap lunches “because of safety and liability.” Which is why a 13-year-old boy received detention for giving half of his burrito to a hungry friend.

Not so “cute”

Nine-year-old Emanyea Lockett told his friend that his Brookside Elementary teacher was “fine” and “cute.” A substitute teacher overheard the comments, and Emanyea received a two-day suspension for sexual harassment.

When the boy’s mother questioned the punishment, the district delivered a certified letter to her explaining that Emanyea had been calling others “bad words” in the past—something the mother knew nothing about.

In the end, the school opened an investigation, removed the suspension from the boy’s record, apologized to the family, and accepted the resignation of the principal.

Bad teacher

At Chicago’s Washington Irving Elementary School, zero tolerance applies to teachers, too. A second-grade teacher brought wrenches, screwdrivers, and other shop tools to class for a carpentry demonstration and was suspended for four days without pay.

Pencil Penalty

When 13-year-old Ethan Chaplin was twirling his pencil in class, it made the student sitting behind him feel “threatened or uncomfortable.” The tattling sent Ethan into immediate suspicion. He was subjected to a 5-hour physical and psychological examination, and his blood and urine were drawn to test for drugs.

“We never know what’s percolating in the mind of children, okay?” said Superintendent Charles Maranzano. “When they demonstrate behaviors that raise red flags, we must do our duty.”

Yes please, school districts, do your duty. But be reasonable. Zero tolerance simply does not work for all scenarios.

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