Punishment doesn’t fit ‘crime’

Published 9:36 pm Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A zero-tolerance policy for weapons in schools makes sense. A one-size-fits-all punishment to go along with that policy doesn’t. At least the Christina School District in Newark, Del. is getting the second half right after having its drama all over CBS and NBC.

Six-year-old Zachary Christie ate lunch with a combination fork/knife/spoon camping tool. The utensil was considered a weapon. Since Zachary had a weapon on school grounds, and the school district’s zero-tolerance policy on weapons called for a 45-day suspension into an alternative school for a kid’s first violation of the weapon policy, that was Zachary’s sentence.

Clearly, a 6-year-old would be thinking of a fork/knife/spoon as a fork/knife/spoon and anything but a weapon. If anyone should’ve been punished, and even this seems to be an overreaction, it would be the parents for allowing him to leave the house that day with a tool or toy that could be considered a weapon.

This tool, or something practically the same, was a common thing for Civil War soldiers to have. What if Zachary had a 140-year-old one from a long-lost ancestor, or had simply bought one in a tourist shop in Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, or nearly anywhere in Maryland or Virginia, then brought it in for show and tell? Then Zachary had a weapon, and he might have talked about a real weapon, during show and tell. In reality, that would be a great show and tell for a first grade class, much more educational than a new iPod.

A letter home saying, “Ms. Teacher found Zach with this yesterday and, although we know it’s not a serious problem, under the school district’s policy, it is technically considered a weapon. If Zach brings it back to school, I’ll have to take it and you’ll have to come to school and pick it up from me,” would suffice.

Instead, all sorts of government and media had to be involved. And it’s anything but the teacher, or probably even Zachary’s principal’s fault. If they don’t follow the rules, then their jobs and careers are in danger.

“This has gotten really crazy. It’s ridiculous. There are going to be hundreds of people at the school board meeting. It’s going to be a circus,” said Delaware state representative, Democrat Terry Schooley.

Good. If that’s part of what it takes to allow Zachary back into school like a normal kid, good for the circus.

“They’ve tried in the district to make it meet the needs of the child, but I don’t believe it’s really geared for a 6-year-old,” said Schooley, about the alternative school Zachary was ordered to go to until the possible change in the policy.

“If it were my child, I would do everything not to send my child there,” said Schooley.

If a government official says that about a school, is there much more to add?

ANDREW GIERMAK is sports editor of the Suffolk News-Herald. He can be reached at andrew.giermak@suffolknewsherald.com