He needed it to cut an onion.
April 6, 2002 12:55 AM   Subscribe

He needed it to cut an onion. Under normal circumstances I would have shook my head and said, "Oh, those silly americans". This story, however, is about my 12-year old brother who's facing a 1 year expulsion after bringing a (small) kitchen knife to school for a science assignment. Zero tolerance - or zero interest in what's best for the kid?
posted by mschmidt (78 comments total)
And the plot thickens ... the school principal has publicly stated that she *had* to expel him, that she had no choice, because of the Zero Tolerance policy. But at a hearing the other night, the school's attorney went on record as saying that the principal could *choose* to expel Christian - but didn't have to. A truly nasty situation.
posted by mschmidt at 12:58 AM on April 6, 2002

is that a real picture? this douglas guy looks like fat michael jackson. i'm going to have nightmares.

in spite of the obvious turmoil to the kid, got to say i'm glad this happened to a good kid so the 'zero tolerance' schtick reveals itself as the load of crap it is. every instance of anything is a unique instance, esp. with people; real crimincals are required by law to be considered innocent until proven guilty, and kids aren't given the same benefit of the doubt. it's a no brainer alright.
posted by elle at 1:34 AM on April 6, 2002

I don't understand their logic. Do they think potential Trenchcoat Mafiosi will be emboldened if they let the kid off for his honest mistake?

And yeah, elle, Fat Michael Jackson all the way. I'm gonna be sharing those nightmares of yours.
posted by donkeyschlong at 1:53 AM on April 6, 2002

This is the sort of thing that should be kept quiet and dismissed privately if it turns out nothing was amiss. Someone blabbed before thinking.
posted by pracowity at 2:20 AM on April 6, 2002

pracowity --- i disagree. this is the sort of thing which should be made as public as possible, using the absurdity of the situation to force a rewrite of an absurd school policy.
posted by nathan_teske at 2:30 AM on April 6, 2002

pracowity: It was kept quiet for a while - but when it got to the point where the school board wanted to force my brother to:

a) admit that he had commited a crime
b) submit to a psych evaluation
c) take anger management classes

my parents felt it was getting out of hand, and decided to go public.
posted by mschmidt at 2:51 AM on April 6, 2002

When I was in elementary school we used to take "rambo knives" to school with us. They were these big nasty looking knives from an army surplus store that had a compass on top of them. We used them to dig in the hillside where the water made little trenches in the rain and we would make paths for matchbox cars and the like. One day we got caught and were told not to bring them again, a little note was sent to the parents, end of story. I guess if that had happened in the current environment, they would have sent us to the seventh level of hell or something.
posted by bargle at 3:23 AM on April 6, 2002

I have a question. If he had admitted to committing a crime, as they wanted, wouldn't that mean he would have some kind of juvenile criminal record?
posted by bargle at 3:27 AM on April 6, 2002

This is what makes my blood absolutely boil about public schools. So often they insist on proving their inability to use even a modicum of common sense-and then they wonder why the children have no respect for authority...for some reason the Jr. High level seems to be the absolute worst.
Mschmidt, is there any possibility whatsoever of homeschooling in your brother's case? It's a cool lifestyle-I've done it-and altho it might on one hand seem like saying the school has won-on the other hand nothing quite like getting away from the Nazis for awhile....your family might even find it preferable...and lately colleges are finding homeschoolers very desirable!

At least the high school my kids are at is ok-but the principal's kids go there too. hmmm.......
posted by bunnyfire at 3:34 AM on April 6, 2002

How come I never hear of teachers/principals being suspended for bring nail clippers, nail files, scissors, pocket knives or x-acto knives in their briefcases/purses? Do they ever search them? And if one of these items is found, do they get the same punishment?

Also, what happened when he took the knife out and used it on his science project? Did they tackle him? Did they immediately have the other kids flee the room and lock the school down? If there wasn't an immediate emergency reaction to him using the knife, why the harsh suspension?
posted by Grum at 3:48 AM on April 6, 2002

"District officials consider this a no brainer. There is "no tolerance" for weapons in school." Yeh, no brainer... as in not using your brain. In a recent persuasive speech in my speech class I was told about a guy who, under california's 3 strikes you're out law was sentanced to 27years-life, with no chance of parole for stealing a pizza. It's just idiotic. What's sad is that, unlike some reluctant judges this schoolboard dosn't even seem to care "no brainer" indeed.

we can't say, well you're a nice kid so your mistake is worse less then someone else's

Personaly I don't think think that, anyone should be punished to this extent for a mistake that dosn't hurt anyone at all. And certanly, things like motive should be considered.

You know what I say? See if you can organize a boycott of the school. Keep your bro from falling behind :P
posted by delmoi at 4:11 AM on April 6, 2002

See, this is why I'm planning on homeschooling my children. That, or placing them in charter schools. Litigation and paranoia have begun to run rampant, and common sense is flying out the window. Let's ask the art department if the school has X-acto knives for projects? Scalpels for biology class disection? These can just as easily be stolen/hidden and used as weapons. Hell, even boxcutters in the staff office.........

Pah. This whole thing makes me sick. Give your brother my support, Michael. I'll even write this comment into a bigger letter if you want. This sort of thing needs to be nipped in the bud.
posted by KoPi_42 at 4:20 AM on April 6, 2002

Information, please:
" a straight-A sixth-grader needed.. a kitchen knife.. to cut an onion...(for).. a science project."
What did the school expect the pupil(s) to cut onions with?
Did they provide kitchen utensils, or did other pupils bring knives or kitchen utensils?
Were they strictly accounted for?
If these other utensils were sharp enough to cut onions, what anti-theft measures were in place to prevent these anti-social kids taking the opportunirty to create mayhem?
Did the boy ask a parent's permission to borrow the knife?
If so, who is really responsible?
If not, why not?

Something doesn't quite add up here, and it's not just the school's over reaction.
posted by dash_slot- at 4:22 AM on April 6, 2002

> this is the sort of thing which should be made as public
> as possible, using the absurdity of the situation to force
> a rewrite of an absurd school policy.

After it became an unavoidable it, yes, it should have been aired. But before it became an it, it should have been looked at quietly by the teacher and rejected as a threat, or handed down to the principal, who should then have dismissed it.

Probably. Though hoards of indignant people would later scream about school negligence and decry the end of school safety, and the school would be sued for millions of dollars and so on, if the kid later turned out to be insane and sliced up other kids after the teacher ignored the knife or even punished the kid but then let him back into school.

That's why rules are so often crazily Draconian: organizations try to protect themselves from insane customers. They will become less Draconian when customers (including parents in relation to schools) become more reasonable.

Yeah, yeah. Now you think I'm in favor of tossing little Chris out on his ass, but I'm not. He looks like the average little goody-goody -- Science Fair, Student Council, Future Farmers, Junior Middle Managers of America, whatever -- being wrongly accused. Let him chop onions, I say. Let him chop till he weeps. It sounds like an excellent science project. The boy's got promise.

I'm grumbling about the forces that make schools and other orgs so nuts. Push for rational, laxer rules, but then don't expect perfect risk-free lives for you and your children. Make the teachers and schools less fearful of your mighty indignation and legal tactics, and then maybe they won't feel like they have to cover their asses with armor plate.
posted by pracowity at 4:25 AM on April 6, 2002

Yeh, no brainer... as in not using your brain.

The "no brainer" is students should not take knives to school.

And certanly, things like motive should be considered.

I believe it is. All Chris has to do is take an anger management course, complete a psychological evaluation, and admit to committing a "crime." If he was looking to cause trouble, I doubt he'd get the pillowy quotation marks from teachers and media to fall back on. If he had a history of trouble, the principal wouldn't "recommend" a year of expulsion.

Mschmidt, I'm sure your brother meant no harm. I am also fairly certain he was informed of a policy being implemented nationwide at most, that he should not bring a knife to school at least. He broke the rules, and the punishment he's being given is representative of what happens when the good kids mess up -- the administration feigns a hard-line approach, then doles out punishments to the trouble makers, reprieves to the kids who are "exceptional: bright, a joy to go be with, a pleasure to work with, an exceptional athlete, just a positive influence; a role model."

I don't even know if Chris is old enough to have pride, but he'd do well to swallow some of it, fess up, take a slap on the wrist, and gain some playground cred.
posted by Homeskillet Freshy Fresh at 4:46 AM on April 6, 2002

I agree with pracowity. The reason these policies get enforced is not so much because school administrators think they are just. They're just covering their own asses. School boards are (with reason) paranoid over a lawsuit. If an incident did occur, and it came out that the knife was there with the tacit approval of the school, a multi-million dollar settlement is the best outcome they can hope for.

Incidents like this one can now be used to show how "seriously" they enforce the policy, and provide additional legal armor in the event of a violence-related suit.

Christian is another victim of our "litigious society", to some degree. And you have to fight fire with fire, unfortunately.

I used to always bring my pocket knife to school - it was part of my Cub Scout uniform! Coupled with the drawings of school destruction I was so fond of, today they would have locked me up until I was 18.
posted by groundhog at 4:59 AM on April 6, 2002

As a side note, who would have thought this could happen to a MeFi user? Does Chris hang out at MeFi?
posted by Why at 5:29 AM on April 6, 2002

More details here.

Looks like he didn't ask the parents for permission and the teacher had no idea he'd need a knife so that's why one wasn't provided. He chose to have part of his science presentation show the inside of a cut onion so his classmates could see the layers.
posted by cyniczny at 5:30 AM on April 6, 2002

That article says: "On Tuesday, the district began providing him with private tutoring two hours a day off campus."

Hell, now maybe he's better off than the other kids. Two hours of tutoring (free? as a punishment?) is probably better than a full day of fighting thirty other kids for the attention of teachers. He should push for the suspension.
posted by pracowity at 5:43 AM on April 6, 2002

All Chris has to do is take an anger management course, complete a psychological evaluation, and admit to committing a "crime." If he was looking to cause trouble, I doubt he'd get the pillowy quotation marks from teachers and media to fall back on.

What, exactly, is the difference between a crime and a "crime"? We're talking something that'll be on his record until he turns 21, right? Something employers and other schools - including colleges - will look at?
posted by dagnyscott at 6:04 AM on April 6, 2002

Mr Schmidt, have you considered suing the school board for the negligent act of permitting, without care to the consequences, the school principal to enact a so-called 'zero-tolerance policy', when policies of this kind are known to lead to educationally unsound outcomes and clearly expose children to psychological harm?

In other words, trying to avoid the responsibility to exercise rational judgement can be considered in itself to be a breach of duty.

posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:29 AM on April 6, 2002

> Mr Schmidt, have you considered suing the school board...

That's exactly what I was talking about. The school is legalistic because people are nuts about suing to get what they want.

Don't sue anybody. Settle it fairly and honestly, person to person, not lawyer to lawyer, and don't use the papers to make a huge issue out of it. You want to negotiate and reason with these people, not to embarrass, anger, and threaten them.

Or if it's too late -- it's in the papers, so I suppose the lawyers have been called, the hounds have been loosed -- try to cool it down and get the kid back into school quietly and fairly on your own. Another lawsuit is going to make the rules even stranger, and not just in that school. Don't further legalize the overly legalistic system you are complaining about.

posted by pracowity at 6:52 AM on April 6, 2002

I'm grumbling about the forces that make schools and other orgs so nuts. Push for rational, laxer rules, but then don't expect perfect risk-free lives for you and your children. Make the teachers and schools less fearful of your mighty indignation and legal tactics, and then maybe they won't feel like they have to cover their asses with armor plate.

I think you nailed it there .... while the CYA principle does work in many places right now, and probably is part of why such apparently severe rules are in place, there is probably also quite good motives working here. Parents and schools do want completely risk-free environments for the children. When students have been wounded or killed by other students, there certainly has been litigation, but I also think there has been quite genuine horror and sadness at the widely publisized deaths of children, and a powerful desire to prevent it from happening one's own school.

There's always going to be a trade-off ... between rules and risk. What parent does not want their children to be able to live with the gift of innocence as long as possible? But that innocence really doesn't exist anymore. (I remember when I was growing up, my first paper route, there was a contest for getting new subscriptions ... I won first prize: a shiny new Buck knife - and can't imagine the outrage that such a prize would provoke these days).

The very sad, paradoxical thing about this incident here is that the very innocence that the law was designed to protect and nurture is what has gotten this poor kid in trouble ... i.e., while the school saw the knife as a dangerous threat, it likely didn't even occur to the kid that it was a weapon, precisely because kids are innocent, because it never in a million years would have occured to him that anyone would use it to cut someone else.

Anyway, the law appears here to have been applied in a really absurd fashion - I hope the school board makes a rational decision to override. But I also can understand what has lead to such laws ... the fear for the safety of one's children is one of the more powerful forces encoded in our genes - and we are living in times where the safety of kids at school cannot just be taken for granted.
posted by MidasMulligan at 6:52 AM on April 6, 2002

Homeskillet: I fail to see exactly this "reprieve" you're talking about - as weird as it sounds, Christian actually loves his school (he sure didn't get that from me), and he's devastated that he can no longer go there. Confessing to a crime he didn't commit (which will ensure a permanent mark on his juvenile record), having to take anger management classes (he's 12, for crying out loud), suffering through a psych evaluation - is there anything left that the school can do that they haven't done already?

To me christian's mistake was one of bad judgement - he should have asked my mom's permission before bringing the knife to school - and I believe the punishment far outweighs the alleged crime. Just because some sort of cover-your-ass rule is in effect at the US schools shouldn't mean that common sense goes flying out through the window.
posted by mschmidt at 6:54 AM on April 6, 2002

Prac: I don't think my parents have any intentions of suing the school - the only reason they went public with this whole mess was because the school immediately brought in *their* lawyers, and refused to even discuss the matter with them.
posted by mschmidt at 6:56 AM on April 6, 2002

I don't think my parents have any intentions of suing the school - the only reason they went public with this whole mess was because the school immediately brought in *their* lawyers, and refused to even discuss the matter with them.

Now that is just plain wrong. Your parents should bring in lawyers.
posted by MidasMulligan at 7:08 AM on April 6, 2002

Sorry to go off topic, but can only A grade, athletic kids be good kids? Surely you can be only averagely intelligent and rubbish at sport and still be a good kid? It reminds me of when people die young and their graduation photos are published, as if a graduate life "full of promise" is worth more than a non-graduate life. I'm not having a go at you or your brother btw mschmidt.
posted by Summer at 7:23 AM on April 6, 2002

> the school immediately brought in *their* lawyers, and
> refused to even discuss the matter with them.

Another symptom of the legalism problem at large. If the school allows a non-legal representative to say something to a parent, the school risks saying something sloppily and having it used against the school in court by the parent's lawyer (a being that the school must assume to exist these days), so the school starts right in with the safest thing for it: a legal mouthpiece who can be trusted to say nothing that could be twisted to the school's legal disadvantage.

This reminds me of a recent story about Intel suing yogis for trademark infrigement (something like "Yoga Inside"). Intel didn't do it because they thought the yogis would take business away from them, but because the law makes it impossible not to sue for infringement. A rational system wouldn't make Intel sue and it wouldn't make the school boot the kid, but past abuses of the law by others make them unable to see another way forward.

> Sorry to go off topic, but can only A grade, athletic kids
> be good kids?

Yes. Stupid kids are evil.
posted by pracowity at 7:29 AM on April 6, 2002

Kids make mistakes. So do school administrators. Zero tolerance policies may seem to be fair on their face, because everyone is treated the same. But, they really are anything but fair. They take away rationality, and thought in the decision making process. Policies like these aren't created out of a fear of litigation as much as they are out of convenience, and misunderstanding of the law.

I came across a site called Zero Tolerance Nightmares, which includes many stories of school administrators execising less than their share of common sense. It also has a pretty good list of links to articles on Zero tolerance policies. Their article Guidance and Advice for fighting a Zero Tolerance Injustice makes some really good points.

I didn't notice any mention of an attorney being involved on Christian's behalf. If your family is going to fight this, and you haven't contacted an attorney, it might be a good idea to do so. It is something to seriously consider. You can call the local bar association, and ask for a referral for an attorney (one with some experience in this type of case if possible). Usually, an initial consultation isn't very expensive, and an attorney can give you some idea how to proceed. I'm not saying that you should rush out to sue the school, but rather to gain the benefit of the expereince of someone who might have fought this type of battle before, and has the knowledge and tools necessary to help you stand up against the school board and force them to make a rational decision.
posted by bragadocchio at 7:30 AM on April 6, 2002

This is just another example of why our public schools are failing: strict adherence to rules that fly in the face of common sense.

My suggestion (and I'm sure your parents are already going to do this anyway) would be to pack as many supporters into that May school board meeting as possible, and make it clear to the school board that if your brother isn't immediately reinstated and the suspension wiped from his record, your group will do everything in its power to win all of the seats on the school board in the next election in order to do just that.
posted by MegoSteve at 7:32 AM on April 6, 2002

In case anybody here would care to, erm, point out their views to the school principal, Ms. Karen Seno, or to the assistant superintendant, Ms. Valencia Douglas, here's her e-mail address (public record, found on the Web, and even if listing it here weren't legal for some oddball reason, well, it's only my first strike anyway...)

posted by Bixby23 at 7:34 AM on April 6, 2002

Nah, I don't think they can do anything to you for listing publicly available information. That would be like saying that the White House is at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I go to a private school, and from reading this, I should thank my lucky stars every day that I do. I know we'd never expel a sixth grader for bringing in a kitchen knife to cut an onion for a science project—I, for one, would be rather surprised were he not to show his classmates what the layers of an onion look like. How would he cut the onion without a knife? The only lapse in judgement I see here is with the school board.
posted by oaf at 7:42 AM on April 6, 2002


I love this place.......
posted by bunnyfire at 7:50 AM on April 6, 2002

Science fair project idea for a zero tolerance school: Alternative modalities for the planar segmentation of Allium cepa
posted by MegoSteve at 7:51 AM on April 6, 2002

Stupid, stupid, stupid. This is not a funky aberration, folks; this is where our society is headed, where we are SENDING it. Do you like these first, faint whiffs of what is to come?

This school should be burned to the ground, the teachers hung upside down and naked from the trees, disemboweled (with SPOONS, don't worry, not wicked knives, just spoons) and left to rot, the ground salted, and the property fenced and posted with large signs warning of the sheer folly and idiocy that lies dormant within the human race, waiting to spring up at any moment.

THINK, people! What is WRONG with bringing a knife to school? What is WRONG with knifes? Man is defined and distinguished as the tool-using animal...are we to legislate away our tools and our rights to use them in an effort to deal with our irrational fears? Knives are, in fact, one of the most useful tools that we have. They have countless applicatons, and modern society would not exist without them. I don't think that it is unreasonable to include cutting an onion in this list of functional utility. Knives are in NO way bad.

Sometimes people do bad things with tools, sometimes even with knives. Using a knife on oneself or others is a destructive, dysfunctional (and quite criminal) act. It is also extremely, extremely rare. Are we to deny ourselves our tools and all that which we can accomplish through them, simply because they can, in theory, be misapplied? Sometimes people use their hands, the ultimate tool, to strangle other people--they can be QUITE dangerous, hands. Shall we insist that people leave them at home, then?

It is insulting to children to assume that while an adult (teacher, parent, etc.) might reasonably be understood to bring a knife to school in order to cut an onion, that the same act by anyone under the age of 18 must be viewed as aberrent and a threat. Rather, I think it shows laudable logical development on the part of the child, the sort of critical thinking that we hope to see in our children as they grow, planning ahead: "My project requires that I bisect an onion. The proper tool for the job is a knife. The school facility cannot be relied upon to provide a knife. Therefore it is my responsibility to provide one in order to successfully complete my task." Or would we prefer them to slouch into school with the tattered husk of an onion that they'd been throwing at their peers all morning on the way to school, and when questioned by the teacher about the scope of their project saying, "Duh, gee, I dunno, I was gonna show you the internal structure of this onion, investigate its vegetative structure, explain its function and relate the metaphoric significance of its layers...but I guess I don't know how to get it open, so, um...may I be excused?"

Certainly, it could be argued that the child must not only be able to anticipate the functional needs of his project but also, especially these days, be aware of the intricacies of the SOCIAL environment in which he operates, which would include an understanding of how bringing a "weapon" to school might be viewed. Fair enough. But I would submit to you that it is a sick system that teaches capitulation to vague, irrational fears and paranoia that this kid has to deal with, and that condemning him for not anticipating this level of insanity is a bit ridiculous. If we adults are shocked and dismayed to read that something like this has occurred, is it reasonable to expect a child to have an understanding so much superior to our own?

This is madness, people, plain and simple. Civilization-ending type of madness. Sick, sick fearmongering by petty, small-minded individuals who should NEVER be allowed to occupy positions of authority or influence over children, or anyone else. I implore you, msschmidt, to strongly encourage your parents and brother to pursue this, loudly, publicly, and as far as humanly possible. Reason must not be abandoned for convenience. We all get our turns to defend reason and good sense against the agents of entropy and chaos, and it appears your parents' turn has come. They MUST rise to the occasion and fight that which is blatantly wrong. The bastards of the world who would sap our strength and pride as a species of competent, thinking beings responsible for our persons and our society must NOT be allowed to win. They have won enough ground already.
posted by rushmc at 7:57 AM on April 6, 2002

*standing ovation for rushmc*

Besides....if I really wanted to stab somebody at school all I gotta do is sharpen a pencil.

Will someone please tell me where they have buried common sense...I would like to lay flowers at the grave....
posted by bunnyfire at 8:03 AM on April 6, 2002

This whole Zero Tolerance policy thing in schools really leaves me totally uncomprehending. When lemon drops and water pistols, or pictures of guns and charm sized pistols, chicken nuggets, and other zero tolerance nightmares lead to suspensions and expulsions because of a zero brain policy among administrators I have to ask what lessons children are learning from this mindlessness?

I feel sorry, not just for Chris and his dilemma, but for all students in schools with ZT policies. Will they learn to stand up for their rights, or will they believe that a zero tolerant society is desirable.

We will all have to live with the effects of this experiment.

Yes bunnyfire, all it would take is a little common sense.
posted by Geo at 8:10 AM on April 6, 2002

Don't some of y'all think that you might be extrapolating from a single data point here by condemning the entire public school system because of one error in judgment? I'm sure for every case like this one there are hundreds, if not thousands, of cases that are handled reasonably. Of course, those cases receive no publicity. Do you really think that if we looked at all the people who homeschool that we couldn't find incidences of abuse?

Civilization is not going to end because one stupid thing happens. And do you really expect me to buy the idea that we should let kids bring knives to school on a regular basis because tool use is an evolutionary hallmark of man? FWIW, that's not accurate anyway, there are other species who use tools.
posted by anapestic at 8:41 AM on April 6, 2002

Like those who sell advertising in schools, these people aren't educators, and they shouldn't be working in schools.
posted by holycola at 9:10 AM on April 6, 2002

I think we have more than a single datapoint to extrapolate from, anapestic. Over 90% of schools have zero tolerance policies.

Most are administered with the kind of mindless inflexibility shown here. That is, after all, what zero tolerance means. It means removing the power of judgement from reasonable, responsible, educated people.

Aren't there any teachers or school adminstrators here to comment? I would love to hear their viewpoint!
posted by Geo at 9:12 AM on April 6, 2002

Most are administered with the kind of mindless inflexibility shown here. That is, after all, what zero tolerance means. It means removing the power of judgement from reasonable, responsible, educated people.

Bull. You have no data to back up your claim as to how they're administered. And zero tolerance need not mean removing judgment. It just means that judgment is used in the determination of whether an infraction has been committed. In the particular case under discussion, the administration could have decided that the student didn't bring a weapon to school. Or are you also claiming that zero tolerance policies are bad for firearms?

Do you have some data to support the notion that vast hordes of students are being robbed of their educations for running afoul of zero tolerance policies? Are thousands of students being expelled each year for wanting to cut onions in class?

What we have here is an example of a stupid administrator. You can't take that and use it as an indictment of the entire public education system. You don't think there are any stupid people homeschooling their kids? Think again.
posted by anapestic at 9:26 AM on April 6, 2002

Anapestic - You can't believe that all the good decisions made by school administrators negates the damage done by the multitude of bad decisions. Suspending a student for honestly trying to do an assigned project and with no regard to the circumstances is unquestionably wrong. Over and above the harm done one child on the road to being an intelligent useful member of society, think of the message being sent to every student attending his school and the millions of others attending schools with zero tolerance policies. Where is the future of society if we teach the whole next generation that all that matters is strict adherance to unreasonable policies? What happens to original thought? Without free thinkers there can be no freedom. Every wrong needs to be addressed and every wrong that is excused on the basis of a right done somewhere else is one more step toward slavary.
posted by eruha at 9:30 AM on April 6, 2002

Anapestic, I have HAD children in the public school system, as well as been an inmate of it. Trust me, this is daily bread for these people. I could give you tons of anecdotes just from what my children were forced to deal with. Her father and I got called in to the school-missing work - to have a conference with an associate principal regarding one of our daughters, in 8th grade at the time. when we got there, we found out that the infraction was accidentally erasing an assignment the teacher had written on the board-bearing in mind that our daughter had the assignment of erasing the board for the teacher, and she was and is a bit of a spacy child who doesn't always pay the closest attention to things....nevertheless, the teacher yelled at her and wrote her up for it, which according to the rules set , necessitated the conference.

thankfully the associate principal seemed to have a glimmer of sense-or maybe she had a healthy sense of self-preservation, as she saw the look in my and my husband's eyes once we realised what we were missing work about.
She turned to my daughter and advised her that next time she should tell the teacher she should do her own erasing.

I spent way too much time talking to administration that year- but my children managed to escape relatively unscathed. I was incredibly overjoyed once the last of my children left that school, believe me!

I neglected to mention-on the way to one of my many needless conferences that year , I happened to encounter an opened condom-thankfully, unused-in the middle of the eighth -grade hall.
posted by bunnyfire at 9:53 AM on April 6, 2002

Bull. You have no data to back up your claim as to how they're administered.

Have you clicked on any links in my first post? This is no unique situation.

Or are you also claiming that zero tolerance policies are bad for firearms?

When the firearms are chicken nuggets, tiny charms, or crayon drawings, yes, absolutely.
posted by Geo at 10:28 AM on April 6, 2002

I'm neither a teacher nor an administrator, but a library tech who spends every day in the public school trenches. I'm happy to say that our school takes a more common-sensical approach to "behavioral" problems like these. The kid's intentions were obviously not malevolent, and he shouldn't be treated as if he attempted to stab someone.

That said, I agree completely with pracowity. Many of the parents that our school deals with are extremely combatant (example: I was verbally attacked - very violently - by one whose little princess wasn't showing up for weeks of my club's meetings, so, per the rules, she was asked to leave) and would be ready to cry lawsuit at the drop of a hat. Their attitude comes shining through in their kids, who parrot "I'll sue!" whenever a disciplinary action has to happen. Everyone is so farking litigious. We receive a daily bulletin via email, and it's often got examples of successful lawsuits against schools, as "lessons" to us on avoiding one. It may sound stupid, but if a district were faced with enough real lawsuit threats, I can understand why they'd feel it necessary to implement a zero-tolerance policy.

Frankly, I'm surprised ours hasn't yet.
posted by spinning jennie at 10:53 AM on April 6, 2002

Sorry to go off topic, but can only A grade, athletic kids be good kids?

they're the prototypical good kids, not the only good kids. the only reason we can conclude he's well-adjusted instead of possibly disgruntled and full of contempt for school is because he has the provisions to be well-adjusted and is even described to be that way. if it was a kid who got bullied or had other reasons to dislike school, there's room for doubt for us who do not know the kid personally, in ths case there isn't.


i'm surprised how many people want homeschooling for their kids. perspectives other than your own don't just sprout out of nowhere without children being situated in sociial environments by themselves without the parents chiming in. not to mention independence, street smarts/cred.
posted by elle at 11:09 AM on April 6, 2002

Here are some great zero tolerance links.

Ordinarily I never advise anyone to get an attorney (even though I am one) because litigation is often the worst possible answer. But in this case, you're up against the school system, which has its own cadre of lawyers. And as this heats up they're going to get more entrenched. You need someone who can get in there and work a satisfactory resolution ASAP.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:22 AM on April 6, 2002

I'm a teacher of fifth and sixth graders, so I figured I'd jump in. My district does have a zero-tolerance policy, though it's less harsh than Madison's. If Chris had brought the knife to class in my school, and there were no evidence he'd used it to threaten or for vandalism, he would have gotten a two week suspension - if I'd chosen to report it.

Just this past week, though, two of my students got into a fist fight, and I chose to deal with it within the classroom (and by calling the parents), despite the rule that says I have to report it and the kids have to be suspended for three days. I chose to do this because I know the kids. One of the boys just started radiation therapy for cancer, and I know full well that he's emotionally on edge and a suspension wouldn't help anything.

But I'm also fully aware that if I've guessed wrong, my job is toast. If one of the kids had brought in a knife the next day and stabbed his classmate, I'd be strung up by my thumbs (or disembowled with spoons, as rushmc recommends) for not having enforced the zero-tolerance policy the day before.

I personally don't like zero-tolerance policies, because they tend to take the decision-making power away from the people who are closest to the kids and put it in the hands of the bureaucracy. Since I'm at a time in my life when I could easily get some other job if I were crucified for a mistake, I am willing to disregard rules when I feel they're not in the best interests of my students. I understand completely, however, that some teachers are going to enforce them because they have families of their own and would be devastated if they lost their jobs.

That being said - despite my distaste for zero tolerance policies, I fully recognize why they exist, and it's blind hypocrisy to put it all on the shoulders of "stupid administrators" as some have done in this thread. Zero tolerance policies exist at a collision of three social forces: the litigious society (districts having to protect themselves against potential lawsuits), the teachers-are-stupid movement (because some teachers have made bad decisions, all decisions should be taken out of the hands of all teachers), and the enforcement of egalitarianism (punishments should be exactly the same for any kid under any circumstance because to do otherwise invites racial or economic discrimination).

Let's also be clear that many private schools have zero-tolerance policies, and that some states mandate them as a matter of state law. The blame here reaches very far and wide, and people should be taking a hard look at their elected representatives and at their own attitudes, along with casting a critical eye on the decisions made by administrators, principals, and teachers.
posted by Chanther at 11:34 AM on April 6, 2002

Oh this is awful. A self link where is that zero tolerance when you need it he says smiling.
posted by onegoodmove at 11:38 AM on April 6, 2002

I'd like to know how your brother is doing, and how he's dealing with all of this.
posted by iconomy at 11:56 AM on April 6, 2002

Well stated, Chanther. Thanks for your perspective.
posted by tippiedog at 12:14 PM on April 6, 2002

What I don't understand about this situation is the school's use of the word "crime." If your brother hasn't been charged with a crime, there's nothing for him to admit to committing. Do they expect him to admit guilt in a legal sense for some reason (such as an interest in taking his admission to the police)? That's pretty scary.

As for the anger management course and psych evaluation, I think it's reasonable for the school to ask for both of those. If he really loves going to the school, meeting the administrators halfway by agreeing to the course and evaluation seems like a better solution than expecting them to drop all of their requests and fighting it out in the media.
posted by rcade at 1:14 PM on April 6, 2002

Chanthar, well stated, thanks for your perspective. :)

Rcade and others who've suggested that the boy accept the charges or suck up the suggested punishments, I must respectfully disagree.

It's an incredibly bad precedent psychologically for the child to submit to irrational institutionalization. What lesson does he learn from that? That he is powerless? That institutions will always have more power than the individual? That institutions are right, even when they are wrong? Don't fight city hall?

Why, when there was no evidence of a crime, or anger, or psychological disorder should this child be subjected to an examination and unneeded invasive psychological training? What has he done that justifies stripping away all of the privacy he has, at one of the most vulnerable stages of his development?

Subverting individual rights for the sake of making things "a little easier" when dealing a deficient bureaucracy is madness.
posted by dejah420 at 2:08 PM on April 6, 2002

I can understand the pragmatic argument of "meeting the school halfway" and acceding to their demands in order to get on with life. But I can't understand for the life of me why the demand for an anger management course and a psych evaluation are in any way reasonable in this situation? What did Christian do that indicates a problem with managing anger or some type of psychosis? I now have to go upstairs and prepare dinner for my family. Should I be consulting a therapist after cutting my vegetables?

ok, ok, I do get a certain thrill from cutting vegetables into tiny pieces with a 10" chefs knife. And carrots. Ohhhh those carrots. They just piss me off sometimes. If I could cut cut up every carrot... I'd mirepoix the hell out of all of them... I am the master of my aromatics, they are not the master of me, dammit!
posted by dchase at 2:26 PM on April 6, 2002

Besides....if I really wanted to stab somebody at school all I gotta do is sharpen a pencil.

When I was 4 in senior kindergarten, a kid who I thought was a good friend of mine and sat with my friends and I at the same desk, sharpened a few pencils. Then he stabbed me in my chest with one pencil, took another and pierced my ear lobe, where the pencil lead broke. He stabbed another friend of mine, and I think he was about to hit him again before we managed to stop him.

Of course this was a private school in Bombay, so the kid didn't get suspended as such, parents were called in, and he ultimately was moved to a new school at the end of academic year.

So I definitely agree that sharpened pencils can be used as weapons.
posted by riffola at 2:34 PM on April 6, 2002

My mistake I was 5 in Sr. KG. Schools which followed the ICSE curriculum had 4 grades prior to the first grade. Nursery, Jr. KG, Sr. KG, and Transistion.
posted by riffola at 2:40 PM on April 6, 2002

It's kind of ironic but I never wanted to walk into any school with an automatic weapon before I read about this. Now I do.
posted by vbfg at 3:55 PM on April 6, 2002

What lesson does he learn from that? That he is powerless?

That schools freak out over weapons because of other kids who have problems and want to hurt someone. That sometimes you have to do some things you disagree with. That life isn't always fair.
posted by rcade at 4:04 PM on April 6, 2002

I'm 28 now and have a small black scar from where I was stabbed almost in the eye. It is in the last piece of skin before you hit the actual eyeball. I told my teacher about it and she made me sit back down. What would happen now? Would this kid have to go to court? They need to worry more about pencils and protractors than damn kitchen knives.
posted by mkelley at 4:39 PM on April 6, 2002

mkelley: Protractor? I think you mean (drawing) compass there. Nowadays, they're plastic and comparatively blunt.
posted by dhartung at 5:23 PM on April 6, 2002

When I was a kid, people often called the sharp device for measuring circles a protractor instead of a compass. I'm not sure if it was a local Texas thing or just a common mistake.
posted by rcade at 7:08 PM on April 6, 2002

My son's protractor has pokey little corners, definitely sharp enough to gash with.
posted by rodii at 8:48 PM on April 6, 2002

As for the anger management course and psych evaluation, I think it's reasonable for the school to ask for both of those.

Demonstrate to me that he is in any way mentally imbalanced, emotionally disturbed or lashing out in anger at random onions and I will agree with you. Until then, I fail to see ANY basis for the sort of cowardly capitulation you advocate.
posted by rushmc at 9:36 PM on April 6, 2002

That sometimes you have to do some things you disagree with.

It isn't an issue of doing something you disagree with; it's about doing something that is irrational and demonstrably wrong, and no one should ever do that, especially not to appease the egos of petty tyrants and simpleminded administrators.
posted by rushmc at 9:38 PM on April 6, 2002

Nice post, Chanther, but I think that this is a key point that can't be gotten around:

I personally don't like zero-tolerance policies, because they tend to take the decision-making power away from the people who are closest to the kids and put it in the hands of the bureaucracy.
posted by rushmc at 9:39 PM on April 6, 2002

Thanks a lot for all the thoughts & comments- I know my mom has been following this discussion with great interest, and she appreciates all the different viewpoints.

There's going to be a public hearing on monday - will be extremely interesting to see how that turns out.
posted by mschmidt at 10:54 PM on April 6, 2002

I guess I don't know what you mean by "can't be gotten around," rushmc. It's not like I'm defending the policies - quite the contrary. I was just trying to point out that these policies do not exist in a vaccuum, and that blaming it all on "the egos of petty tyrants and simpleminded administrators" is not likely to be productive.

Just so we're clear, I think that what's happened to Chris is reprehensible. If I were his parent, I'd fight tooth and nail before I'd ever have him agree to having committed a crime, or to the scarily Orwellian anger management course and psych evaluation.
posted by Chanther at 11:10 PM on April 6, 2002

I am hoping someone important will realize that Zero Tolerance is unconstitutional, as each American citizen has a right to due process.
posted by McBain at 11:24 PM on April 6, 2002

They claim there's zero-tolerance for people bringing weapons into school. A knife can be used both as a handy tool, and as a weapon.

So can a pencil. I could ram a pencil into someone's eyes, and then smash it into their temple, causing death. What about a pair of scissors? A pair of scissors is just two knives joined together with a hinge.

(P.S. the guy doing the narration on the video news item for this story has the world's most boring voice ever.)
posted by wackybrit at 1:14 AM on April 7, 2002

CrayDrygu: if he has to admit to comitting a crime, how is the judicial system not involved?
posted by juv3nal at 3:23 AM on April 7, 2002

I don't think that the laws always apply to minors. Being a minor is like being a second-class citizen.

I just wanted to throw in my support for the kid. Its a shame, because what I think is at the bottom of a "zero tolerance" law is just plain laziness. The law is meant to shield the public from incompetent school officials who can't make judgements for themselves or do their jobs without some rule. If this principal has nbo decisions to make, then what's the point of her job? She clearly has no interest in the welfare of this kid. She won't even come out and say she thinks its bad - instead she defends a policy that effectively removes her from the decision making process. Isn't she even allowed to say that she doesn't think this makes sense in this case? She's a drone.
posted by xammerboy at 9:20 AM on April 7, 2002

It would be unconstitutional if the US Government (or a part of it) put zero-tolerance laws into place, perhaps.

Which is what happened when in 1994, Congress passed the Gun-Free Schools Act. States didn't have to follow the Act, which required zero tolerance laws. But the cost for not doing so would have been their federal funds.

CrayDrygu, state governments can also violate US constitutional rights (and state constitutional rights, too). Many guarantees under the Bill of Rights can be applicable in actions against States under the 14th amendment. The concept is known as incorporation.

School administrators have been held to be state actors, and the prohibitions of the incorporated amendments do apply to them. One example is Brown v. Board of Education.

McBain, There normally is the right to due process hearings in any school expulsion. Attacking the zero tolerance laws on that ground would likely be unsuccessful.

[and, on preview, what xammerboy said]
posted by bragadocchio at 9:40 AM on April 7, 2002

I guess I don't know what you mean by "can't be gotten around," rushmc.

What I'm saying is that while it is certainly important to understand the context in which situations like this occur--and your post does an admirable job of addressing that--it ultimately doesn't alter the fact that it is reprehensible and should not be allowed to stand.
posted by rushmc at 4:24 PM on April 7, 2002

Well, at least Christian had a knife....this poor girl was a rebel with a leaf.
posted by dejah420 at 11:39 PM on April 7, 2002

Well, people here have already put forward this viewpoint, but I just wanted to add my support in a small way to mschmidt, his brother, and the rest of their family. I'm sure it isn't a wise idea to take a knife to school, times being what they are, but for heaven's sakes, the child is obviously admitting he made a mistake.

The "punishment" here is way out of synch with the "crime" I'm not sure what a reasonable punishment would be, seeing as the boy already knows he did something wrong, and he was motivated out of a certain kind of thoughtlessness, a sort of innocence, if you will, not out of anger or a desire to harm others.

I'm not a principle, but I would suggest that a talk with the child would have been in order, to let him know why there's a problem with what he did. From the details I know about this, I can't see that counselling for an anger that doesn't exist can be anything but hurtful.

The only good scenario I can see here is if the school backs down, the child goes back, gets on with his life, and this event doesn't mark a defining moment in his life.

Seems like the school is making an example of him. They are thinking "If we don't punish this boy, even though he's a good kid and obviously didn't mean any harm, then we won't be able to punish a child who brings a knife to school because they are genuinely angry or have a score to settle with another student, they will just be able to point to this example, and say, well, you didn't punish that other kid. This may well set a legal precedent that will leave a school vulnerable."

Still, this has to be resolved. It isn't fair to ruin a person's life because of legal principles. I hope this is resolved quickly and reasonably. At least it looks as if Chris is getting excellent support from his family who are not prepared to remain silent and let events unfold, but are taking a proactive approach to support their child. Good luck to you all.
posted by lucien at 4:48 AM on April 8, 2002

spinning jennie said: Many of the parents that our school deals with are extremely combatant (example: I was verbally attacked - very violently - by one whose little princess wasn't showing up for weeks of my club's meetings, so, per the rules, she was asked to leave) and would be ready to cry lawsuit at the drop of a hat. Their attitude comes shining through in their kids, who parrot "I'll sue!" whenever a disciplinary action has to happen.

My entire life has been spent in close proximity to people who have chosen teaching as a profession. The above story is repeated at least once a year for every teacher, and sometimes more if the parents decide to band together and run a teacher out of a school - there are any number of parents who have zero tolerance policies towards teachers and schools (this is true in both public and private schools). Tolerance begets tolerance, zero tolerance begets - well, you can guess.

Situations like this, where students bear the brunt of a problem not of their making, are unfortunate, but so are the less publicized witch hunts leveled against teachers and administrators by parents.

It would be nice if both schools and parents could be more tolerant, but that seems unlikely, seeing as there are human beings involved.
posted by iceberg273 at 6:29 AM on April 8, 2002

"My goodness me,... if we haven't gotten the message to him that he made a mistake already - which, in fact, he's admitted - by suspending him for 15 days, we need our heads examined."

WoooHoooo! Christian's going to school today!
posted by dchase at 8:11 AM on April 9, 2002

That's great...but I suppose that, just as when elections are stolen through criminal activity, folks will be content to simply "let it go" and "move on," and no principle will be established, no person will be held accountable, and the stage will be set for the next travesty.
posted by rushmc at 9:40 AM on April 9, 2002

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