Reform school for a 6-year-old

Zachary Christie, very cute six-year-old boy, made the front page of the New York Times. He’s been suspended from first grade and sentenced to 45 days of reform school for bringing his Cub Scout camping tool, which includes a fork, spoon and knife, to his Delaware school. He wanted to use it to eat his lunch.

. . . based on the code of conduct for the Christina School District, where Zachary is a first grader, school officials had no choice. They had to suspend him because, “regardless of possessor’s intent,” knives are banned.

School officials are afraid to give themselves discretion for fear that they’ll be accused of favoritism or racism. They can’t look at Zach’s age or his excellent behavior record till now and just tell him not to do it again. They prefer to send a very small boy to a school with older delinquents who’ve actually harmed others.

Zach is being homeschooled by his mother, the PTA president, while the family appeals the suspension. They’ve set up to mobilize support.

Last year, Delaware legislators gave school boards flexibility on zero-tolerance expulsions.

The law was introduced after a third-grade girl was expelled for a year because her grandmother had sent a birthday cake to school, along with a knife to cut it. The teacher called the principal — but not before using the knife to cut and serve the cake.

But the law doesn’t cover Zachary, who was suspended rather than expelled.  The Legislature is working on a new law that will give school boards’ discretion on suspensions too. Call it “Zachary’s Law.”

Update: Waco, Texas trustees have dropped zero tolerance for weapons, instead telling principals to consider mitigating factors such as self-defense, intent, the past behavior record and disability.

Update II:  Turns out Zachary’s school board did have discretion. Under media and parental pressure, the board redefined a blade less than three inches long as an “instrument” rather than a weapon and cut the penalty for kindergartners and first graders to five days of suspension. Zach is back in school.

Meanwhile, Instapundit points to more zero-tolerance idiocy:  A 17-year-old Eagle Scout in upstate New York is serving a 20-day suspension for keeping a two-inch pen knife in a survival kit in his car, which was parked in a school lot. The pen knife was a gift from the boy’s grandfather, who’s the police chief in a nearby town. The senior fears this will kill his chances of getting into West Point.

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  1. Policies like these contribute heavily to negative perceptions of teachers, administrators and school boards; no common sense and no backbone. It’s the bureaucratic mindset.

  2. I always carried a pocketknife to school. But in the mid- to late- sixties, the policy seemed to be to ban only switchblades. “Gravity knives” (which could be opened by a flick of the wrist but weren’t spring-loaded) were OK.

  3. Bill Leonard says:

    Sigh. You are so right, momof4. And these self-same educrats at all levels will continue to complain about the continuing stream of kids from public schools into charter schools, private schools and home schooling, while never making a connection as to the reasons why.

  4. I’m willing to bet that the existing policy has some embedded discretion (such as suspension for up to 45 days). The people who implement policy need to get over the belief that they can avoid all criticism by handing out identical responses in all cases. I think the lore of most cultures include at least one tale of a fool misapplying the preference of one person to the next person and situation to come along–with the result being that no one is pleased.

  5. I carried a pocketknife to school in the 60s. These people are morons who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near an actual student.

  6. I am a prof in a (college) conservation program. Many times out doing field labs I’ve actually counted on at least a few of my students having knives (for example, when the soil gets stuck in the sampler and needs to be removed using a thin blade).

    I have had very few students over the years – and none of my “Cons Guys” – that I would be concerned to think was carrying a knife with him on campus. Or, for that matter, had a gun in his car. (I’d only be concerned that it might get stolen if it was not properly locked up)

    Stories like this are frustrating. It’s just like the TSA requiring my father (who is 70-something, quiet, kindhearted, and disabled) to take his shoes off and let them take his cane to bits – just so that they don’t offend someone by ‘racial profiling’ a person who might actually pose a threat.

  7. This is what happens when our legal system allows frivolous lawsuits. Common sense would dictate the teacher confiscate the “weapon” and return it after class with a lecture to the child’s parents. But post-Columbine and VA Tech, schools are so paranoid about getting hit with a lawsuit that they implement ridiculous “zero tolerance” policies that are more about CYA than actually protecting kids from real danger.

  8. That’s why the pricipals get the big $$$$$

  9. Andrew Bell says:

    School districts are wimps. So what if someone were to complain if the “proper” action had been taken. Let them complain.

    As bandit said…

  10. Crimson Wife has it right; CYA all the way. A student is using a tool appropriately; in the absence of inappropriate use and/or threats of same, it’s fine. The problem attaches to the individual, not to the tool or the weapon. I carried a penknife on my key ring all through school and college, just like many others. My HS confreres often had hunting and fishing equipment in their cars, including knives and guns, because they often used them before and/or after school. It was never a problem.

    Yes, just like the TSA. I get checked regularly; small, over 60, female, not of more-likely ethnicity/religion (when people are killing in the name of religion, it matters), and a veteran. Best use of resources, right?

  11. Not only did I carry a pocket knife when I was in high school, I actually fired guns on campus. The ROTC program had a target range. Even non-ROTC folks could take an elective PE class in gun safety and target shooting. Nobody batted an eye, back then.

  12. tim-10-ber says:

    Ya know…I know this is not true…but it is at times like these when I swear educators are some of the stupidest people and we trust them with our children?

    Crimson Wife has it right. Why did some one not take the tool and hold it until the end of school. A note or call to the parent and the matter is handled.

    Do ed schools still take only those students that don’t qualify for anything else?

    My college son has a knife on campus because it becomes a handy tool as was mentioned above. Countless others do too…

    Geez…where does common sense come into play?

  13. Mike Curtis says:

    “School Officials” is like “Committee Members,” nobody is held accountable for anything. Now, I know there’s little hope of requiring stupid people to wear signs; but, there should be no trouble in naming them after they have done something truly stupid.

    Many institutional managers and administrators have learned in their fledgling years (vice principals, athletic directors, counselors, etc) that if you do nothing at all, then it’s not possible to be accused of doing something wrong. In the military, these types are refered to as “careerists” at best, and, “incompetents” when their indecision causes any measurable damage. In either case, they don’t stay in charge of anything for too long.

    In public education, they hide behind the efforts of competent subordinates, and depend on public apathy to ignore them. They are a plague on the public; but, the public refuses to hold them accountable.

    Turn the lights on…watch the roaches run for cover. Identify the decision maker(s) and put their names and pictures in the local paper. Or, by deciding to do nothing, join their ranks.

  14. Maybe the mistake is not thinking like a bureaucrat. They should try getting the suspension upgraded to expulsion, so that the school can gain flexibility in the matter.

    The writing classes must be interesting, using nothing but large-diameter, rounded-tip crayons.

  15. One minor point: The suspension was the result of a state law, not a school rule.

    So in this case you should blame the legislators, not the educators. (If Delaware is like most states, more of the legislators will be lawyers than anything else.)

  16. I was so relieved to read that the Legislature was hard at work crafting yet another law that will undoubtedly have more unintended consequences. It would probably be too much to ask that they simply throw out the current nonsense; its probably tied to Federal highway money.

  17. Jim,

    Where does it say its a result of state legistators? The article links to the districts code of conduct. I wonder if a little league bat would violate this policy? Ice skates? Why can’t we fire these people.

    Dangerous Instrument(s) Possession/Concealment/Sale: Regardless of possessor’s intent, any unauthorized possession/ concealment/sale of an instrument, article or substance which is readily capable of causing serious physical injury or death. If the full blade of a knife is less than three inches, the item will be considered a dangerous instrument.
    First Offense
    • Parent/guardian notification and conference
    • Notification of police, charges will be filed
    •DOE Student Conduct Report will be filed as required by law
    • 5 days out-of-school suspension
    • Alternative placement*

  18. The rationale for searching everyone at airports actually has some logic behind it – if for example airport staff stop searching elderly Chinese women terrorists have a strong incentive to figure out how to plant anything they want to smuggle onto the plane on elderly Chinese women.

    Suspending a 6 year old for bringing a spork to school is far sillier.

  19. Lock him up!

    Hall Monitor

  20. MikeC..”Many institutional managers and administrators have learned in their fledgling years (vice principals, athletic directors, counselors, etc) that if you do nothing at all, then it’s not possible to be accused of doing something wrong.”

    See the concept of the promotion job, as explicated by a Royal Navy captain.

  21. I am very glad they lifted the suspension on the kid, they need to make exceptions.

  22. al-AP is reporting that the school board has changed the policy–for kindergarten and 1st graders–so that the boy can return to school. The boy’s punishment has gone from 45 days in reform school to 3-5 days’ suspension.

    Maybe he needs some sensitivity training, too. Geez.

  23. So, when the school board earlier said that the way the legislature had drafted the law left them with absolutely no discretion in this matter, were they just flat-out lying?

  24. To be charitable, perhaps they “misunderstood”.

  25. Margo/Mom says:

    “So, when the school board earlier said that the way the legislature had drafted the law left them with absolutely no discretion in this matter, were they just flat-out lying?”

    It happens I have spent some years as a bureaucrat. And many more years as a school parent. I would say that it is very rare to encounter a situation in which one’s hands are truly tied. On the other hand, it is very common to use this excuse to abdicate responsibility for doing something that one wants to or intends to do–blaming it on clueless superiors.

    Now–why would anyone want to do anything so incredibly stupid? Well, blanket applications, blamed on someone else, not only avoid the need to exercise judgment (and accept the consequences), but they also serve as a passive-aggressive form of rebellion against authority. I don’t like anyone telling me what to do–so I’ll show you–I’ll do EXACTLY what I’m told, carrying every dictate to absurd ends.

    I rather suspect that neither teachers, nor administrators are stupid, as a group. They may, however, as a group, suffer dissatisfaction and a propensity to act in silly ways as a result.

  26. In any event, if the administrators had thought the legislators were doing something stupid, they could & should have argued against it. Just about every other professional group in the country tries to preserve its autonomy and hence resists legislation that would box-in its decision-making abilities.

    The “profession” of public school administrators, on the other hand, seems to be made up largely of people who *want* their discretion to be limited to that of junior clerks.

  27. Doug Sundseth says:

    “Ya know…I know this is not true…but it is at times like these when I swear educators are some of the stupidest people….”

    You have more faith in the intelligence of educators than I do.

    ps. Yes, I understand that there are some really smart and dedicated people who end up in education. If you are one of them, I’m not talking about you. But “the stupidest people” are wildly overrepresented in that career field, especially among “them as can’t teach”.

  28. Suspending a 6 year old is a joke- what is he possibly going to learn at his age from it? He’s going to view it as a few days off from school. If he was my kid, I would take him to the movies or something- make it fun day with Dad.

    As other posters have said- take it away from him, explain gently why he shouldn’t bring it to school, and have the parents pick it up. Dumb…dumb…dumb…

  29. “Suspending a 6 year old is a joke- what is he possibly going to learn at his age from it? He’s going to view it as a few days off from school. If he was my kid, I would take him to the movies or something- make it fun day with Dad.”

    Dawg–you just won the bad parent of the year award. I know, I’ve been there. My six year old was suspended (maybe he was only five) for playing “hot hands” on the school bus with someone he wasn’t even supposed to be sitting with. The expectation that comes with this silliness is that “it’s up to the parents” to produce kids who are pre-equipped in the behavior area. This is not the school’s area. So–the days off are designed to give a “wake-up call” to the parents, make them run around making arrangements for child care, or take time off work, oh and BTW, don’t make it FUN, and fix the kid before they get back.

  30. I hope the mother reconsiders and quits her job as PTA President and uses the time to continue home educating her son. Why do we parents continue to put our children (and ourselves) under the authority of such ridiculous, incompetent people? It is good these cases come to the public’s attention. The sad thing is the thousands of other little tyrannies public school children must suffer daily at the hands of these people. No wonder children learn to hate school and lose that love of learning they all start life with. Death by a thousand paper cuts!

  31. maybe the school bureaucrats suspended the kid b/c they were worried that the next time they suspend a kid for bringing a genuine weapon to school–and the suspended kid happens to be a racial minority– they would be vulnerable to charges of racism if they aren’t draconian w/ all kids.

    that’s the best explanation for their brain death that i can come up with.

  32. Richard Aubrey says:

    You’re probably right.

    The goons who got the high school kid got an Eagle Scout, a National Guardsman and a West Point candidate all in one. A lib educrat’s wet dream. A trifecta.

  33. Ben – Legislature’s fault or school boards’s fault? After putting up my comment, I read other articles and decided I may have been too one-sided.

    The legislature apparently took discretion away from the schools, and then the school wrote a rule with punishment for the worst case. (Interestingly, one school board member said that school officials should have ignored their own rule!)

    So, my guess is that both are at fault.

    Finally, I wonder whether many of the people who make these laws and these rules have observed any normal boys.

  34. Richard Aubrey says:

    Miller. They have, and recoiled in horror.

  35. Richard, I think that is part of it. Both schools and teachers have become progressively less boy-friendly over the past decades. Normal boy behavior has been redefined as abnormal (ADD,ADHD), probably needing medication (ritalin). I could see the change clearly, since there are 11 years between my oldest and my youngest, but the changes are also unpopular with girls who have no desire to focus on emotions and artsy-crafty projects most of the time.

    There is also the desire on the part of schools/districts to have racial/ethnic equality across disciplinary actions. I have been told, privately, that there is often pressure to ignore inappropriate, sometimes even threatening, behaviors from favored minorities and magnifiy minor infractions from whites and Asians.

  36. Richard Aubrey says:

    wrt your last. Told privately? I thought it was public policy.