Monday, February 15, 2010

Zero Tolerance policies

Randy Cassingham of This is True first put me on to Zero Tolerance ("ZT") policies and their insidious repercussions. He has dedicated an entire area of his website to recording the follies of ZT zealotry.

His latest story in the most recent issue of This is True grabbed my attention, especially because it came so quickly on the heels of a story I had found on my own and had sent his way: Iowa school district suspends first-grade home-schooler . . . when a shotgun shell the boy and his dad had found (and that the boy slipped into his pants pocket) happened to fall out of his pocket as he was jumping around in gym class.

"Whether it's an empty shell or a loaded shell, it's considered part of a weapon and unsafe," said Leigh McGivern, a school district spokesperson.

And why the shell appeared in the boy's pocket doesn't matter, either. Y'know: "Rules are rules!"

Dan Beattie and his son found the shotgun shell as they cleared out a wall of their Carlisle farmhouse, which they are renovating.

Beattie, a church pastor, said he used the encounter to teach Matthias about guns and safety.

He then let Matthias add the shotgun shell to his collection of raccoon bones and other farm finds.

"He thought it was cool," Dan Beattie said.

The Beatties said they didn't know the shotgun shell was in Matthias' pants pocket when they dropped him off last week at his [once-a-week] public school class [that pairs public school teachers with home-schooled children]. . . .

Matthias isn't a public school student in the eyes of state law, and his class meets at a church. But district officials say Matthias and other home-schooled students are bound by discipline policies.
Yep. "Rules are rules!"

Leslie Dahm, the school district's home-schooling coordinator, indicated in the suspension email she sent the Beattie family that school administrators considered more severe penalties before they settled on the one-week suspension.

How brilliant of them!


But this wasn't the first such suspension the district has meted out in the recent past.

Back in October, we are told, school officials suspended a sixth-grader who took empty shotgun shells to school to show a teacher.

Y'know, they're just so dangerous!

Well, then there's the story Cassingham highlighted in his newsletter this past week: Patrick Timoney's "Gun."

During lunch hour, 9-year-old Patrick Timoney was playing Legos with his friend. Patrick, whose dad is a former police officer, pulled out his favorite Lego® action figure--a policeman who wields a 2" long machine gun.


As he attached the gun to the policeman, he suddenly found himself in trouble with "the law": he was "yanked into the principal's office."

As the New York Daily News reports, the principal then called Patrick's mother and forced the boy to sign a statement confessing he had brought a gun to school. After all, she allegedly told Patrick, "A gun is a gun!"
The elder Patrick Timoney, a former 72nd Precinct cop, couldn't believe his son was nearly busted over something so obviously inauthentic.

"It's a 2-inch gun," he said. "She went overboard. She should have said, 'Put the toys away,' and that would have been the end of it."

After a meeting between the principal and the parents, the boy was spared any disciplinary action. City school officials said Patrick agreed to leave the "gun" at home.

"I'm never bringing a toy to school again," said Patrick, whose favorite subject is math.

Laura Timoney remained upset. Her son, a typically eager student, asked to stay home yesterday because he thought the principal was mad at him.

The mother said she expects an apology and may sue.
Randy Cassingham lays bare the case the Timoney's have. The principal's actions completely contravene the district's written policy.
To begin with (p3), school officials are told that "prior to determining the appropriate disciplinary and/or intervention measures, the following must be considered: the student's age, maturity, and previous disciplinary record...." (bolding and underlining from the original). There were no indications in any of the reports I read that Patrick Timoney had any sort of discipline problems before, and in fact he loved school.
In the section on "Level 4" infractions (p16) for Kindergarten through Grade 5, which outlines that it is an infraction to possess "any weapon as defined in Category II", the policy goes on to urge:
Before requesting a suspension for possession of an article listed in Category II for which a purpose other than infliction of physical harm exists, e.g., a nail file, the principal must consider whether there are mitigating factors present. In addition, the principal must consider whether an imitation gun is realistic looking by considering factors such as its color, size, shape, appearance and weight.
The principal "must consider whether there are mitigating factors present"? What a concept! And note it says must, not "should". And the principal must "consider whether an imitation gun is realistic looking by considering factors such as its color, size, shape, appearance and weight." In other words, a gun is not a gun is not a gun: its color, size, shape, appearance and weight must also be considered before declaring a toy gun is a "weapon".
But here's a story that illustrates the problem with the idea of suing schools for their idiotic ZT policies and/or practices: the story of Savana Redding. Perhaps you remember her story?

Savana was the girl who was strip searched because one of her classmates implied that she had distributed some 400mg ("prescription-strength") Advil (ibuprofen) at school.

The school officials involved were unwilling to admit any wrongdoing on their part when Savana's mother protested that such an intrusive search was inappropriate. Mrs. Redding then sought legal remedy.

According to the summary statement in the eventual U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion in the case,
Savana’s mother filed suit against Safford Unified School District #1 [and the school staff members who had conducted the search], Wilson, Romero, and Schwallier[,] for conducting a strip search in violation of Savana’s Fourth Amendment rights. The individual[ defendant]s . . . moved for summary judgment, raising a defense of qualified immunity. The District Court for the District of Arizona granted the motion on the ground that there was no Fourth Amendment violation, and a panel of the Ninth Circuit affirmed. A closely divided Circuit sitting en banc, however, reversed. . . .
The Supreme Court decision--which came five years after the incident (!!!!)--did not find in Savana's favor that the school district and staff were liable for any damages; all it did was state that the search violated the Constitution's Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search. However (Opinion of the Court, Sec. IV, para. 4),
the cases viewing school strip searches differently from the way we see them are numerous enough, with well-reasoned majority and dissenting opinions, to counsel doubt that we were sufficiently clear in the prior statement of law. We conclude that qualified immunity is warranted.
petitioners Wilson, Romero, and Schwallier are. . . protected from liability through qualified immunity. Our conclusions here do not resolve, however, the question of the liability of petitioner Safford Unified School District #1 under Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U. S. 658, 694 (1978), . . . and this case is remanded [to the Ninth Circuit Court] for consideration of the Monell claim.
Do you have the time and money to pursue that kind of case?

I'm no great fan of the American Civil Liberties Union, but on this case, anyway, I say, "Thank God for the ACLU!"
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