We thought the Zero Tolerance policy, that schools all over the country have in place since all the school shootings, was a good thing.
Students, faculty and other staff were being senselessly murdered as students showed up in school with guns. It was unthinkable, but it was happening in most sections of the country. Minnesota was as close as it ever got to Rugby. Up until then, some of us falsely believed it could not happen in the Midwest. We were wrong.
Something had to be done to stop the madness.
In the 1990s the federal government stepped in and told schools they needed to have a policy in place that essentially says that no firearms or other weapons are allowed to be on school grounds. If this happens, the school authorities need to look at suspending the student who violates the policy. Many schools called it zero tolerance policy. Some schools have suspended anyone who brings even a pocketknife to school. No matter that there was no ill intent.
Rugby has a policy of no guns or weapons on school grounds. The weapons policy at the Rugby schools, in summary, reads as follows: “No student will knowingly possess, handle, carry, or transmit any weapon or dangerous objects, or look-a-likes in any school building, on school grounds, in any school vehicle or at any school-sponsored activity. Violation of this policy will result in disciplinary action up to and including suspension or expulsion. Bringing a weapon other than a firearm to school will require that proceedings for the suspension for up to 10 days and /or expulsion for up to 12 months be initiated immediately in accordance with the district’s suspension and expulsion policy.”
In the Rugby policy, the superintendent has some discretion on modifying expulsion on a case- by- case basis based on approved criteria. It has also provided for non-applicable provisions which include participation in a school-sponsored shooting sport or a display of weapons, dangerous objects, or look-a-likes for educational purposes.
In reviewing the policy, we see that Rugby schools have provided for the safety of the students, and at the same time have had the foresight to allow discretion by the superintendent/principals on a case- by- case basis for innocent children with toys.
What re-ignited our interest in zero tolerance at this time was an article in the “That’s Outrageous” section of the October issue of the Readers Digest. One incident involved a six-year-old Delaware boy who had become a new Cub Scout. As a new Scout, the little boy was given a camping utensil that can serve as a knife, fork, or spoon. “He was so excited about his new gizmo that he brought it to school one day to use at lunch”, according to the article, and ended up being promptly sentenced to 45 days in a reform school. The school board overturned his sentence after review. One would hope this is an extreme case.
But what about the student who brings a knife with her birthday cake to school? Or the child who adds toy soldiers with miniature guns to a school project which honored a military career. These were also examples in the article.
Perhaps parents will need to have more vigilance over what toys their students take to school, for example, for show and tell in kindergarten.
Rugby Superintendent Jeff Lind recently said that in all of the years he has been at Rugby School, he has never had to use the policy. He does believe that in the case of toy weapons, that the principal should have discretion to evaluate the situation and intent, and discipline, according to the seriousness of the situation.
While understanding that favor cannot be given to one student over another in matters of policy, we think some discretion is needed to separate intent to harm and innocent behavior by young children. Obviously, a six or eight-year-old who comes to school with a real gun must be treated the same as an older student with a weapon for the purposes of this policy.
However, children and toys with an innocent intent, might need some discretion in disciplinary action.
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