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A good end to a bad chapter

Published 10:16pm Friday, June 14, 2013

It took some doing to get there — including a bit of international embarrassment — but the Suffolk School Board has landed on a reasonable weapons policy that will help protect students, while giving building administrators for Suffolk Public Schools the latitude to use their personal judgment to mete out appropriate punishment for those who violate the policy.

During the School Board’s monthly meeting on Thursday, members agreed unanimously to amend the weapons policy in the wake of the suspension of two 7-year-old boys at Driver Elementary School who, in the course of pretending they were Marines, aimed their pencils at each other like guns and made shooting sounds. The incident — and the administration’s response, which was too earnest by half in its depiction of the “threatening” manner in which the pencils were wielded — captured the attention of the Internet, where the school system was widely scorned for the “zero-tolerance” weapons policy that resulted in the suspensions.

Chastened through the combined power of the Internet, television, newspapers and word on the street, the School Board wasted little time readdressing a policy school officials have at once defended as necessary to the orderly administration of schools and blamed for tying their hands in such situations as the one at Driver Elementary School.

Thursday’s unanimous vote for changes to the weapons policy proved commonsense could prevail. Henceforth, the principal, the principal’s designee, the superintendent or the School Board can decide punishment for weapons-related infractions “based on the facts of a particular case.”

Administrators will be able to consider the student’s age, the intent to harm or injure and whether the student possessed a weapon as described in the revised policy before punishing a child who brings a weapon to school. They will also be able to consider whether the student possessed an object “that would cause a reasonable person to believe it was in fact a weapon,” and whether the student possessed an object that, though not fitting an actual weapon description, was still intended to be used to inflict harm or injury.

Some actual weapons, like unloaded firearms, Bowie knives and other dangerous things, have been added to the policy. Significantly, pencils are not included, nor are other items kids might pretend are weapons. The new policy will punish those who bring things on campus that pose an actual or realistically potential threat to other students. It will allow administrators to temper their response to situations and students that pose no threat.

Suffolk earned quite a bit of negative publicity from the pencil suspensions. In the end, though, the School Board made the right decision. Unfortunately, considering the nature of such things, most folks will never know about the positive results of the whole debacle.

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