Zero-tolerance policies go too far

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Reasonable people can — and do — disagree on what steps should be taken to protect school children from horrific incidents such as the Newtown massacre.

Some see the need for stricter gun regulations and outright bans of some weapons while others see that as counter-productive and unconstitutional. Both points of view, and everything in between, are certainly worthy of thoughtful discussion.

So how did our society stray so far from reason and into a robotic haze in implementing zero-tolerance gun policies at schools throughout the nation? These policies go way beyond banning weapons on school grounds, but make it a punishable offense for students to even talk about anything weapon or violence related — regardless of how innocent the comment might have been. Context isn’t considered, nor is the age of the child.

Oh, surely school boards would not expect school officials to enforce policies so rigidly and mindlessly, right?

Wrong. And it is worse than most of us could imagine.

In Pennsylvania, a 5-year-old girl was suspended from school for making a “terroristic threat” in January. She told her friends she would shoot them with her Hello Kitty gun that makes soap bubbles.

In Maryland, two 6-year-old boys are given the boot from school for playing cops and robbers on the playground using their fingers as guns. Suspended.

And in Massachusetts, another dangerous 5-year-old made a gun out of Legos and pointed it at other students while “simulating the sound of gunfire.” The kid got a warning that his next Lego offense would be a two-week suspension.

These are real examples gleaned by The Associated Press as the news agency took a look at where stringent zero-tolerance gun policies are being enforced around the country. What AP found is, frankly, discouraging.

It’s clear to any kindergartner that the toys and finger guns are not dangerous and the “threats” were simply kids playing.

A simple discussion about acceptable behavior on school grounds could have easily been the end of it. The worse thing that could have happened in any of the above incidents is a soap bubble in the eye.

Zero tolerance made its big splash in America in 1994 when a federal law was approved mandating a minimum one-year expulsion of any student caught with a firearm on school property, which would have been fine if applied with reason. (Not expelling kids who clearly forgot that their hunting rifle was still in their rig.)

But it did not stop there. School districts have morphed zero tolerance to include everything from Hello Kitty bubble guns to arguing with a teacher. For what?

There’s no hard evidence that zero-tolerance policies are more effective than those rooted in common sense.

“It’s a very hypersensitive time,” said the father of one of the finger-pointing 6-year-olds. “But, still, common sense has to apply for something like this, and it looks like common sense just went completely out the window.”

It’s been nearly 20 years of nonsense. It’s time to swing the pendulum back to reason.

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