scouts-l Mail Archive for March of 2000: Re: FW: A pocket knife is a weapon...
Bob Amick (amick@SPOT.COLORADO.EDU
Thu Mar 16 2000 - 09:54:35 CST
The crucial issue in "zero tolerance" enforcement
of weapons prohibitions by many schools is one of a lack of fair and rational
assessment on a "case-by-case" basis, and thus the absolute and unwavering
administration of often inappropriate or excessive sanctions.
Most "zero tolerance" policies are unilaterally absolute responses which
often may fail to consider elements and facts of each individual
situation. Some regrettably are compelled by state law and thus
the schools have little latitude for interpretation. However, many of the
youth that are impacted by such administrative actions suffer a far greater
penalty than the severity of the "crime" they have allegedly committed, and
that could be viewed as "cruel and unusual punishment" which in a court of
law at least, is prohibited by our Constitution.
National media attention has focused on cases where schools
imposed extreme sanctions for obviously inadvertant and innocent acts
by children. One was a butter knife in a
lunch pail perhaps put there by parents so the child didn't
even know it was there. Many children have inadvertantly carried pocket
onto school premises without realizing that the knife
was in their pocket. Some may have even been Scouts, perhaps
having been on a campout during the weekend, and possibly
wearing the same clothing to school without even
checking their pockets. Only a few years back no one would have
given such an act a second thought. Things are regrettably
much different now.
Clearly the schools are in a huge dilemma, in that they
must attempt to guarantee the safety of the students and teachers, and
yet are faced with situations in which some "violations" are
inadvertant, unintentional, and relatively innocent. Taking
a firearm to school is for the most part a conscious, intentional act, with
life threatening/menacing implications, and rightfully severe consequences;
Thus is far more serious than inadvertantly carrying a pocket knife or a
butter knife. Yet the child who inadvertantly carries a pocket knife may
receive sanctions more out of proportion for their act. Obviously the
situations are vastly different.
Certainly we need to stress the importance
of following weapons policies and to try to guarantee
safety as much as possible. Prohibitions and subsequent sanctions
are only a small piece of a much larger and far more
complex issue, and really are dealing only with symptoms
rather than the real sociological issues that cause
the tragedies we are now seeing.
But what kind of a message are some of the schools sending to the children
who are sanctioned inappropriately about fairness and objectivity? There are
situations where students have been excessively punished with
extended suspensions, or with a threat of permanent
expulsion and even criminal charges for an inadvertant act such as carrying
a pocket knife onto school premises. The intangible damage resulting from
actions can result in nearly incalculable effects
that are often not considered (e.g.,impact on future academic
career, having to make up work lost while under suspension,
losing an academic year, losing eligibility for extracurricular
activities, having to transfer to another school after having been at a
given school for most of their academic career, disciplinary entry on their
permanent record, loss of self-esteem, and inappropriately defaming
Such punishment would seem to be far more harsh and certainly less
appropriate than other remedies that are more fairly and thoughtfully
The object is or should be,to get children to "follow the rules" and in
Scouting we should try to use positive rather than negative reinforcement to
get that message across. Folks, including children, just respond
more favorably and are in the long run, more likely to comply because
they have some ownership in the issue through positive reinforcement.
Some folks who have received a "warning" from a police officer for a
traffic violation sometimes say that they are more conscious of their
violation for future actions than if they had gotten a citation which they
just paid and forgotten.
Most students faced with such sanctions have no recourse,
nor appeal rights, and must simply abide by the administrative
decision. A few cases have been reversed because the parents
had the resources to engage legal counsel and present a case that
the school administration was acting unreasonably by imposing
inappropriate and excess punishment.
The problem with zero tolerence is that factors of personal character,
integrity, lack of a previous occurrence, examining the facts which
led to the event, intent, and awareness of threat, are often not even
considered. Even in a court of law, a student would get a better chance for
a just hearing than some of the administrative processes delivered by
some of the schools.
Again, it is a complex and an almost a "no-win"
situation, but it would seem that some of the schools should possibly
re-examine their administrative procedures with an emphasis on objectivity
and fairness in light of extenuating circumstances. Schools, like Scouting,
presumably exist to not only teach children academics,
but also, and of even greater importance, to impart values and ethics which
should prepare them for adult life as productive and responsible citizens
and future parents; it is well to remember that "..we reap what we sow..."
Bob Amick, Advisor, Venturing Crew/Sea Scout Ship 72, Boulder, CO
At 11:43 AM 3/15/00 -0500, you wrote:
>> and therein lies the ultimate falsity - life is replete with
>> exceptions and waivers for good cause.