Why we have no tolerance for ''zero tolerance''

You can relax! Thanks to quick and decisive action, a 10 year-old menace will no longer be stalking his next victim within the halls of Columbus City Schools, at least for a while. Thank you, zero tolerance, for removing this predator.

In case you missed the original story, a Columbus fifth-grader has been suspended from school for pointing a “level 2 lookalike firearm” (that is public school zero-tolerance policy parlance for a FINGER).

Devonshire Principal Patricia Price has warned students about pretend gun play numerous times this year, and everyone should know the rules by now, district spokesman Jeff Warner said. Nathan put his finger to the side of the other student’s head and pretended to shoot “kind of execution style,” Warner said.

“The kids were told, ‘If you don’t stop doing this type of stuff, there would be consequences,’” Warner said. “It’s just been escalating.” Warnings included three newsletters sent home with kids, he said.

The boy’s father, Paul Entingh, said no one felt threatened, and it’s the adults who are acting childish in their response to a typical 10-year-old’s misstep.

“He said he was playing,” Paul Entingh said. “It would even make more sense maybe if he brought a plastic gun that looked like a real gun or something, but it was his finger.”

The other student didn’t even see the offense — a teacher witnessed the hand gesture, both sides agree.

Nathan has never been in trouble before at school, and a three-day suspension is overboard, his father said. “I would have even been fine with them doing an in-school suspension.”

That appears to be the extent of fact pattern. A young child, 10 years-old, playing an innocent game with a classmate.

As the article notes, this isn't the first time Columbus City Schools have so grossly overreacted:

• In 1999, an elementary principal pressed criminal charges against an 8-year-old boy who she said assaulted her by flailing, kicking and screaming during a temper tantrum. A juvenile court judge dismissed the charge, saying the boy was too young to have had “criminal intent.”

• In 2000, a second-grader was suspended for two days at Huy Elementary School on the North Side for wielding a gun he had drawn on paper and cut out.

• In 2009, a 14-year-old Northland High School student faced a one-year expulsion after he fired a Nerf foam-dart gun at school. The district settled for a suspension instead.

While Columbus City School policy states that there can be NO tolerance for these children, the same school system is known to have tons of tolerance for supervisors who commit record and tax fraud by falsifying grades and attendance records.

The irony of this policy is also exposed when one considers that the General Assembly has refused to pass a calamity day bill because they don’t like teachers getting extra paid days off, yet principals get paid time off on any “gun offense,” courtesy of zero-tolerance. Why do we even need a principal? Zero tolerance does all the thinking! Let's save even more of the taxpayers' money by docking that principal an hour’s pay, as there was no job function performed.

In 2005, Buckeye Firearms Association also covered another incident where Columbus City Schools' zero-tolerance policy failed a child by punishing a 7 year-old WHO HAD NEVER BEEN TAUGHT ANY BETTER for finding a handgun on his way to school. Kids being curious creatures and all, he picked up the handgun and placed it in his backpack. Unfortunately, this ended up at the child's school, where it was discharged, wounding him in the hand.

For those of you with children, think about it. Does a 7-year-old act with inherent evil in their heart, or are they just inherently curious, and will get themselves into the most absurd of situations unless THEY HAVE BEEN TAUGHT BETTER? As a responsible parent, would you prefer your school system shield your child from any mention of guns and pretend they don't exist, or for them to teach your child "Stop! Don't Touch! Leave the area and tell an adult!" You'd be amazed the violent resistance your school boards express to teaching that simple message.

So, considering "It takes a village" to raise a child, how does our kinder, gentler society address this young child's shortcomings? Education? A critical reexamination of where we, as a society, failed this child by not teaching him the most basic of gun safety rules? Accountability for schools that considers it a basic mission to teach acceptance of differing life styles, and even establishes an afrocentric school to celebrate and accommodate those rich heritages, while at the same time shunning state funding for gun safety training?

No, we suspend or expel the youngters. Think about that statement for a second while reflecting upon the fact pattern. We SUSPEND or EXPEL the 7 year-old, the 8 year-old, the 10 year-old.

In the cases of a zero-tolerance policy leading to expulsion, these children are forever encumbered, scarred and perhaps ruined based upon a few minutes of their very young life. They are held back and have to repeat a grade level. They go six months to a year without formal school instruction in a district that already has one of the highest flunk-out rates in the nation. All of their friends move on. They get used to staying home and watching morning TV. Their teachers will forever view him as the one who got expelled. Does anyone really think these kids will ever emotionally or educationally recover from an expulsion? With an expulsion, we have given a death penalty to a second grader who WAS NEVER TAUGHT BETTER. Who has failed who in this situation?

When everyone is gathered in the Superintendent's office that fateful morning as this child's fate hangs in the balance, the school administration on one side or the table, the 10 year-old menace on the other side of the table, which side of the table should society remove from the equation?

For our money, it is the side of the table that treats a 10 year-old with a "finger gun" like he is as much of a threat as the 17-year-old gang banger.

As noted in by The Dispatch, State Sen. Charleta Tavares, a Columbus Democrat, has proposed legislation that would overturn a 1998 state law requiring schools to adopt zero-tolerance policies. Her plan would force schools to remove those policies and forbid them in the future because she said they lead to unfair punishments.

Last year, when she introduced her bill, which would reserve suspensions and expulsions for only serious incidents, Tavares highlighted the suspension of an 8-year-old Maryland boy who chewed a Pop-Tart into a gun shape this year. “A gun-shaped edible snack is not a weapon,” Tavares said

“Many of us on both sides of the aisle want to find something that will give school administrators flexibility so they can be reasonable, remain safe and keep students in school,” she said yesterday.

The Senate’s education committee is continuing to hold hearings on the bill.

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Secretary, and BFA PAC Vice Chairman. Ken Hanson is a gun rights attorney in Ohio. He serves as the Legislative Chair for Buckeye Firearms Association, and is the attorney of record for Buckeye Firearms Foundation, which filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the Heller and McDonald Supreme Court cases. The National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) has awarded him with its 2008 Defender of Justice Award and 2009 Jay M. Littlefield Volunteer of the Year Award. He is the author of The Ohio Guide to Firearm Laws, a certified firearms instructor and holds a Type 01 Federal Firearms License.

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