School System’s Zero-Tolerance Policy Generates Debate

BALTIMORE (WJZ)— Punishment gone too far or appropriate protection for your kids? Several suspensions stemming from zero-tolerance policies have sparked outrage and a debate over discipline.

Mike Hellgren takes a closer look at the passion over punishment.

Recent high-profile suspensions have been over what schools have called dangerous weapons but some parents say how the rules are being enforced is simply ridiculous.

Cases of zero-tolerance discipline in schools across the region have generated outrage. A 6-year-old Cub Scout in Delaware was suspended for bringing his favorite camping utensil to school to eat his lunch.

“They shouldn’t bring dangerous weapons to school, but I don’t think that the punishment should be this bad,” said Zachary Christie, suspended over utensil.

Two lacrosse players in Easton were suspended for having small knives to fix their sticks in their bags.

“We got in trouble for a zero-tolerance policy that shouldn’t have been in place, and common sense really should have been in play,” said Casey Edsall, suspended lacrosse player.

Now, a Severna Park High student has been suspended for bringing pepper spray to school. Her mom says she kept it for her safety on her walk to campus.

School administrators say these are all dangerous weapons, and the policies are in place to keep classrooms safe. But are they going too far? That’s the question the state school board will take up next month.

Outgoing superintendent Dr. Nancy Grasmick is urging all schools to review policies. Their concern sparked after a member of the state board read about the case of Nick Stuban, a teenager in Virginia–who killed himself, distraught after being transferred schools for buying a legal pill that acts like marijuana.

“It’s gotten too punitive. It’s gotten too criminal in its orientation, ” said John Farrell, supporter of zero-tolerance reform.

Many zero-tolerance policies started after the Columbine shootings. The U.S. Department of Education found the most commonly targeted offenses include possession of firearms, other weapons, alcohol and violence.

And while good-intentioned, the lack of flexibility has parents like Laura Dennis–mother of one of the suspended Easton lacrosse players–hoping administrators will learn a lesson in tolerance.

“To charge him for having a two-inch pocket knife is ridiculous,” said Dennis. “It’s such a waste of everyone’s time and energy.” 

The lacrosse players are among those who have fought their suspensions. But even with the outrage– more than 500 comments alone on WJZ.COM since we first did their story– the school system hasn’t budged.

More than 80 percent of schools have zero-tolerance policies.

More from Mike Hellgren
  • Larry

    Unfortunately in the world we live in today, you can’t change the policy. I have a nephew who was suspended for bringing a plastic knife and fork to school because he said the ones at school were cheap and flimsy. The policy is there to protect everybody and as soon as you leave a crack someone will slip through it. Just like the security at the airport. I would rather be inconvenienced all day rather than have someone get through with something dangerous. By the way, you can do a LOT of damage with a 2 inch knife.

  • shannon

    Jeeze! Can’t kids be kids anymore? So many rules to ‘protect’ but really just hindering freedom and self sufficiency.

  • Arrietta Dorsey

    I’m glad there is an policy to govern our schools, I would never want to be on the recieving end of a kids need to be kids life style.

  • Kimberly Blackwell

    yeah really they have these rules for idiot kids wanting to show off and act all getto on everybody trust me u can do damage w/a 2in knife and whos to say them kids arent wacked enough to start killing and stabbing people u just dont no these days it wasnt like it was back wen we went to school they should b suppended thats y its called 0-tolerance!!!

  • Jonathan Chiles

    I disagree. There is the written rule, and then there is the punishment. The punishment should be based on a 360 degree analysis of the person and situation. If you have a person who has done a million things right and only one thing wrong; why should that one thing triumph the one thing.
    Is common sense and and logic not allowed in determining if the situation was of any threat? Are we implying that too many people are too stupid to know what person would be of an innocent mistake, such as a way to fix their LAX stick, and one who had no practical purpose and brought it for the purpose of harm? Or pepper spray. Seriously? Why don’t we shelter our kids a little more, because we have obviously failed to properly parent.
    One size does not fit all , neither does the same punishment fit all misdemeanor’s

  • Jonathan Chiles

    Oh and anything can be a weapon, its all in how you use it. So we going to ban everything. Hell while we are at it, why don’t we put them in Mental ward straight jackets, so they can’t hurt themselves….. Yeah….. Can’t be too over protective

  • Deborah Hileman

    Pencils have been and CAN be used as weapons. Rip the spiral out of a notebook, AGAIN….you have a weapon….Allow the punishment to fit the crime people.

  • Doug

    Just another reason to abolish to school system.
    Home school your darlings with a computer.
    Save us tax payers billions.

  • Robert Eubank

    I’m sorry but having a zero tolerance policy doesn’t stop school violence. A kid usually doesn’t bring a gun to school with no intention of doing anything. If he is going to bring a weapon to school, he is going to be using it and the policy won’t matter. Having a principle say “you can’t bring that gun in here, you’re suspended” isn’t going to stop a shooting at all.
    Yet again the innocent are punished because the lawmakers are three steps behind the guilty.

  • Robin Gibson

    Please visit my Facebook page. I’m a mother trying to force schools to have to used common sense with this policy!

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