ACLU questions zero tolerance

Policies designed to keep guns out of schools are pushing Pennsylvania students out of school, charges Beyond Zero Tolerance, a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

Black, Latino and disabled students are the most likely to be suspended, according to the report.

The Gun-Free Schools Act of 1995 required states that receive federal funding to mandate expulsion of any students caught with a weapon on campus.

Districts expanded the definition of “weapons” beyond firearms and removed students from the classroom for more minor, discretionary offenses, such as school uniform violations and talking back to adults, the report said.

“I understand the mentality that you’ve got to get the bad kids out of school so the good kids can learn, but when you actually look at who’s doing what in schools, it really doesn’t break down that cleanly or that simply,” report author Harold Jordan told Education Week.

Pennsylvania schools averaged 10.1 suspensions for every 100 students during the 2011-2012 school year. That included 35.9 suspensions for every 100 black students, 17.5 suspensions for every 100 Latino students, and 4.7 suspensions for every 100 white students, according to the report.

Education Week looks at shifting discipline policies in a January 2013 report.

Pushed out

Let’s return to common-sense discipline and stop suspending, expelling and arresting students for minor offenses, argues Advancement Project. Overusing suspensions and replacing counselors with metal detectors and police creates a school-to-prison pipeline, the civil rights group believes.

Special-needs boy suspended for bomb cartoon

special-needs student was suspended from middle school for drawing a cartoon bomb, reports WTOC-TV.

A photo of the bomb Parham's son drew. (Oct. 14, 2013/FOX Carolina & Amy Parham)A photo of the bomb Parham’s son drew. (Oct. 14, 2013/FOX Carolina & Amy Parham)

Amy Parham said her son, Rhett,  is a fan of the video game Bomber Man. He drew the bomb at home, but took it to school.

“They actually reiterated to me they knew he was non-violent,” said Parham. “They knew he was not actually having a bomb, creating or making a bomb. School officials told her it was a question of  “perception.”

Rhett will get a hearing to see if his perceived offense is related to his disability. (I think he’s on the autism spectrum, which would mean he’s not good at reading social cues.)

Boys like things that explode, writes Darren on Right on the Left Coast.

When he was young, a local TV show called Miss Pat’s Playroom showed kids’ drawings. He sent one in. Miss Pat said: “And little Darren Miller sent in this picture of an airplane bombing a house.”

No one panicked. No one called for Miss Pat to be thrown off the air. No one called for me to be psychoanalyzed. Back then people were smart enough to realize that boys draw such pictures and it’s perfectly normal, just like playing cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians.

“Now we’ve taken what is perfectly normal and criminalized it, stigmatized it, and freaked out over it,” he writes. Which is stupid.

School punishes sober driver

A North Andover High friend who’d been drinking at a party called Erin Cox at work to ask for a ride home.The honor student was demoted from captain of the volleyball team and suspended for five games for . . . not letting her friend drive drunk. Zero Tolerance Policy at schools -

Moments after Erin arrived at the party, the police showed up and arrested several teens for possession of alcohol. Police determined Erin had not been drinking and had no alcohol. But, apparently, they gave the names of everyone there to the high school.

North Andover High told Erin, who’s a senior, that she was in violation of the district’s zero tolerance policy, which includes drinking off campus. And not drinking off campus.

Boys suspended for gun play at home

Two 13-year-old Virginia Beach boys were suspended for the rest of the school year for shooting a pellet gun on private property, reports WAVY News. Seventh graders Khalid Caraballo and Aidan Clark were playing with a spring-driven airsoft gun in the Caraballo front yard, which is near a school bus stop.
Six boys were playing with the “zombie hunter” gun in the yard on Sept. 12, says Khalid. “We see the bus come. We put the gun down. We did not take the airsoft gun to the bus stop. We did not take the gun to school.”

The boys were charged with “possession, handling and use of a firearm.”

Airsoft guns use plastic pellets, rather than bbs.

In a letter, Principal Matthew Delaney said one student was hit by a pellet while 10 feet from the bus stop.

Clark will be homeschooled. Caraballo will attend an alternative school.

Zero tolerance for boys’ play could backfire

Zero tolerance for imaginary gun play is “psychotic” as in “out of touch with reality,” says Dr. Leonard Sax, a Pennsylvania psychologist and family physician. 

“Out-of-touch policies such as these, which criminalize behaviors which have always been common among young kids, are contributing to the growing proportion of American kids, especially boys, who regard school as a stupid waste of time and who can’t wait to get out of school so that they can get back to playing their video games,” Sax said.

Sax is the author of Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men.

Remember the five-year-old interrogated and suspended for bringing a cap gun on the school bus? Maryland school officials have refused the parents’ request to remove the suspension from the kindergartener’s permanent record.

New threat: Talking about Nerf guns

It’s bad enough when little kids are kicked out of school for bubble shooters, cap guns, gun-shaped pastry and Lego guns, etc. In Washington state, a 6-year-old was suspended for talking about the Nerf guns his family had bought on a recent trip. A classmate told the teacher that Noah had a gun with him. Even when it was clear he did not, he was suspended for a “threat.”

(Mike) Aguirre said he and his wife were told their son was suspended for talking about guns at school, and because the girl who reported him felt her “health and safety were threatened” when they were called to the school last week. Officials said the issue is addressed in the district’s discipline handbook in the section on student rights and responsibilities.

But Aguirre said there’s no provision that students are prohibited from talking about guns at school, nor did the district provide evidence that the boy threatened to harm a student.

After meeting with the parents, district officials downgraded Noah’s suspension to a “disruption.”

Via Legal Insurrection, which also links to the many recent cases of zero tolerance for common sense.

Persecuting boys for being boys is “a kind of quasi-religious fanaticism,” writes Glenn Harlan Reynolds in USA Today. “I think it’s about the administrative class — which runs the schools with as little input from parents as possible — doing its best to exterminate the very idea of guns. It’s some sort of wacky moral-purity crusade.”

Bang! Boys suspended for pointing pencils

Two Virginia second graders were suspended for two days for making shooting noises while pointing pencils at each other. The two boys are 7 years old.

“When I asked him about it, he said, ‘Well I was being a Marine and the other guy was being a bad guy,’” said Paul Marshall, one of the boys’ fathers. “It’s as simple as that.”

The teacher wrote on the suspension note that the boy put down the pencil when asked, said Marshall, a former Marine.

Suffolk Public Schools spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw said the district has a zero-tolerance policy for weapons that includes pointing a finger or pencil in a threatening way and drawing a picture of a gun. “Some children would consider it threatening, who are scared about shootings in schools or shootings in the community,” Bradshaw said.

Teen back in school — in NRA shirt

A West Virginia 14-year-old is back in middle school — wearing a National Rifle Association T-shirt — after being suspended and arrested for refusing to take it off last week. On Monday, Jared Marcum and about 100 other Logan County students wore shirts with gun rights themes provided by the Sons of the Second Amendment, a gun rights group.

Jared, an eighth grader at Logan Middle School, attended his morning classes wearing a shirt with an NRA logo, a picture of a hunting rifle and the slogan, “Protect your right.” He was standing in a cafeteria line when a teacher told him to turn his shirt inside out. He refused. He was sent to the office, where he again refused to remove the shirt, and arrested on charges of disrupting the educational process and obstructing an officer. He was released to his mother and suspended for a day.

Jared’s attorney, Ben White, said video evidence shows the cafeteria was orderly until the teacher raised his voice while confronting Jared. “I think the disruption came from the teacher,” he said, predicting all charges will be dropped.

The student believes the Second Amendment is being threatened and wore the shirt as an “expression of political speech,” White said.

“What the video shows is that students did step up on the benches to the tables in the lunchroom when they were escorting Jared out of building. Kids jumped up, clapping. Teachers said to get off and be quiet, and they did.”

Logan County schools’ dress code bans clothing and accessories that display profanity, violence, discriminatory messages or sexual language, along with ads for alcohol, tobacco or drugs.

Jared is an honor roll student who plans a career in the military, his attorney said. The 14-year-old certainly understands his legal rights.

A veteran Chicago teacher is suing to reverse a four-day suspension for bringing a pocket knife to school. Douglas Bartlett showed second graders the knife, a box cutter, various wrenches, screwdrivers and pliers “as part of a curriculum-mandated ‘tool discussion’,” his lawsuit states.

Moral cowardice and the educational policy we deserve

We call it by many names: drawing lines, making judgment calls, exercising discretion, setting limits. As human beings, we’ve got an inborn tendency to want routines — rules that we can follow to minimize the amount of time we spend making decisions. If we had to actually decide, consciously, whether to stop at each and every red light, our lives would be unbearable.

But we also are a pretty smart species, which means that we know that our general rules don’t always apply. So we make judgment calls, we make exceptions. We use “common sense”, which Descartes claimed was the best-distributed thing in the world. If we’re being chased by a car full of murderers, we don’t stop at the red lights.

The social institutions that we build also follow rules. We “set policy”. But whereas as a species we have a pretty good handle on how to bend the rules on an individual basis, as a society we really don’t have a handle on striking the balance between giving discretion in the execution of policy on the one hand, and avoiding the sort of corruption that can arise from unfettered discretion on the other.

My favourite example of this is “zero tolerance” policies, about which I’ve written extensively in the past. But the mindless application of policy can take other forms, just as intellectually and morally offensive, and even a bit macabre:

Blind, severely disabled boy forced to take standardized test.

Michael is nine years old. Born prematurely, he weighed four pounds. He has a brain stem but, according to doctors, most of his brain is missing.

No problem, says the state. An alternative version will be sent—pictures that Michael can describe.

Unfortunately, Michael is blind.

No problem, says the State. There’s a Braille version.

Michael doesn’t know Braille, and is unlikely to ever be able to learn it.

The first thing I want to do is point out about this situation is that “the State” never said a damn thing. Some individual person, acting on behalf of the people of the State of Florida, made these decisions.

Now, that person probably doesn’t think that he or she has done anything wrong: after all, policy is policy, and the people of the State of spoken in passing the laws that they’ve passed, and in appointing the people they did to write the regulations that were written. Who is this sole individual to take it upon him or herself to contradict the “wisdom” of publicly-announced policy?

This is, of course, the dilemma. As a representative of the people, are you entitled to make your own decisions about such things? And if you do, don’t you risk being wrong? Couldn’t some judge somewhere decide that you weren’t applying the law equally? Better to just follow policy — at least that way you won’t have made any sort of mistake for which you can be held accountable.

Through intensive physical, occupational, and speech therapy, along with meticulous efforts of his Hospital/Homebound teachers for the past seven years, Ethan has achieved very limited and rudimentary communication skills. He has a very slight thumb lift with his left hand to indicate ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

Ethan has been required to take the Florida Alternate Assessment for the past two years, and in addition to the questions being entirely inappropriate for his level of cognition (he cannot comprehend questions about math, staplers, clocks, shoes, or even food) there is no way to accurately assess his understanding of the material being presented… Additionally, the testing procedure is extremely physically taxing for him, requiring him to sit in his wheelchair for long periods of time and focus on black and white pictures which are difficult for him to perceive at best… After the testing sessions, he is physically exhausted and often develops pressure sores from sitting in his wheelchair. He also has developed respiratory infections from fluid pooling in his lungs from the long testing sessions.

Ethan’s mother managed — after immense bureaucratic hassle — to get a waiver, good for one year.

I initially thought I’d blog about this article because it’s catchy and exciting and filled with all sorts of easy, low-hanging outrage.

And yes, it’s easy to point at these cases and accuse the state officials of being idiots. I know it’s easy; I’ve done it a lot. But it’s also, I’ve decided, the wrong thing to do.

The administrators who make decisions like this, who make decisions like suspending students for Pop-Tarts or poems, who make other sorts of jaw-droppingly stupid decisions… are not idiots. I don’t doubt for a second that, in most cases, if they believed that they wouldn’t be punished or criticized for making exceptions, that they would go ahead and apply policy in a common sense manner, giving exceptions to students like Michael and Ethan.

What they are is adept bureaucrats, with a cunning sense of survival. They are also moral cowards, after a fashion. And yes, that’s a failing. But we get the government we deserve. We get the policies we deserve. We get the bureaucrats we deserve. We’ve put a premium on moral cowardice; it’s rewarded.

If we want a school system that makes sense, a school system where wise administrators make wise decisions… then we need to be open to the possibility that this might require us to actually give the administrators some play on their leashes. And that might mean having to deal with some bad decisions from time to time; it might mean having to deal with a bit of corruption, racism, or sexism.

I don’t want to read any more stories about kids getting suspended for Pop Tarts. I don’t want to read any more stories about Michael and Ethan. I’d rather live in a world where even our officials are given room to make a few mistakes in judgment — because that means that they’ll be given room to do the right thing, too.