Congratulations to Gwinnett County School System for winning the coveted Courtroom Strategy Bonehead Legal Move of the Year Award for 2012. I know what your thinking – Oscar its only January How can you possibly award this now? Because I am confident that no application of a governmental rule or law will stop this one by this school. Read on and tell me if you disagree(taken from the website of the NBC subsidiary 11 Alive):
Thirteen-year-old Jack Persyn was at chess club before the start of classes at Lanier Middle School in Gwinnett County when he discovered an inch-and-a-half long knife in a bag he brought to school. The military style bag was given to him as a Christmas gift from his aunt, who bought it at a yard sale The disciplinary report written by administrators at Lanier Middle states that the 8th grader “accidentally” brought the knife to school and that he “immediately self-reported” the weapon to his teacher. Still, Jack was punished with four days of in-school suspension.
That’s right even though he immediately told the school about it and even though the school confirmed and agreed that it was brought to school by accident, they suspended Jack for four days as a reward for doing the right thing. BONEHEADS. But to make it worse, the school tried to justify its decision with the most circular reasoning I have heard in a long time:
The Gwinnett School System insists their policy on weapons in school is not zero tolerance, yet a school spokesperson said any student found to have a weapon at school will face punishment even when a student self-reports accidently [sic] having that weapon.
OK so its not Zero Tolerance, but “any student” with a weapon will be punished. That’s Zero Tolerance. When you apply your weapons policy to a kid who did not know he had the miniscule knife when he went to school because it was in a used backpack given to him for Christmas (just in case you forgot we were talking about Georgia)and then immediately told the school you have Zero Tolerance and Zero brains. The kid was at morning chess club for crying at loud! How about some reverse profiling here.
Why am I even writing about a four day school suspension in Georgia, because ever since 9-11 (and Columbine) these types of policies have come to impact our lives and personal freedoms in ways that we are now immune and accustomed to. We think nothing of a TSA agent searching a 5 year old or passing a 95 year old through a body scan. We allow States to have laws that allow police to ask for ID if someone “appears to be an illegal immigrant”; we allow our past president to pass the “Patriot Act” which restricts our constitutional rights so much that any true patriot would call for protests against its passage; President Obama, who pledged to veto the National Defense Authorization Act, has signed it essentially allowing for martial law in the US and I could go on and on.
So this is just another example (though a small one perhaps) of how those in authority refuse to use any perspective or discretion in dealing with these issues. Zero Tolerance is the best way to cover your butt and not require you to think or exercise judgment. Isn’t that what we want from people in authority – to use their judgment? Otherwise why not have a computer run our school. This case is particularly egregious since we should be looking to reward “self-reporting” and “honesty” especially when it is not disputed that the weapons possession was completely unknowing and accidental; instead the School chose to punish this 13 year old.