Monday, February 27, 2012

Expelling a third-grader for having a pocketknife?

Do you think zero tolerance often goes too far? For real firearms, fine, I think that is a good thing and was the original intent of the federal law. But for water pistols, pictures of guns on paper, and pocket knives, I think zero tolerance is carried too far and is, frankly, stupid. Our society has become far too intolerant and nitpicking.

See below for a case in point.

From: -- Letters to Sunnyvale Sun 2/24/2012

Standing up for expelled third-grader

I thought you'd like to know how zero tolerance is being applied in our local schools. My daughter's third-grade friend brought his pocket knife to school on accident. It was just in his pants pocket from the weekend.

An hour after school was dismissed, he and his friends were still playing on campus and he showed his knife to them. One of them was a girl and because the blade was pointing in her direction, she decided he was "brandishing it" and went to tell her mom, who told the office, who told the district, who told the cops, one of whom said if he saw him with a knife again he could shoot him. That's right: preserve and protect; bully the 8-year-old.

He's being expelled from Cumberland Elementary because California's zero tolerance rule requires that the principal issue a mandatory recommendation for expulsion with complete disregard for age, circumstance or intent.

The California penal code defines brandishing very clearly. According to Penal Code 417, simply drawing or exhibiting a weapon isn't enough to justify a conviction. In order for prosecutors to convict you of brandishing a weapon or firearm, you must do so in a rude, angry or threatening manner.

This means that if you are merely joking, "showing off" or even educating another person about your weapon, you aren't guilty of brandishing a weapon.

Our principal requested that the family not discuss this incident with anyone. This is alarming, because it takes away the only recourse the family has to exonerate their child--raising awareness and drawing support. It also puts all power squarely in the hands of the administrators and district officials.

I am shocked and saddened that there are few other parents rising in his defense. I think we are all too scared that our own kids' education will be sabotaged if we speak up against current policy.

I am hopeful that by raising awareness, parents will be less fearful of applying pressure to our lawmakers to amend the zero tolerance rule. Even adults in our criminal justice system are not punished with the same heavy-handed blind sentencing that zero tolerance mandates for kids.

Julie Colwell



Here is some further recommended reading:
-- note that automatic expulsion does not seem to be required, a principal can use their own discretion. Personal observation: unfortunately many principals lack the ability to use reasonable discretion.

-- this is the actual CA Educational Code that applies
-- see 48915 in particular where it states:
"Except as provided in subdivisions (c) and (e), the principal or the superintendent of schools shall recommend the expulsion of a pupil for any of the following acts committed at school or at a school activity off school grounds, unless the principal or superintendent finds that expulsion is inappropriate, due to the particular circumstance:..."
"(g) As used in this section, "knife" means any dirk, dagger, or other weapon with a fixed, sharpened blade fitted primarily for stabbing, a weapon with a blade fitted primarily for stabbing, a weapon with a blade longer than 3 1/2 inches, a folding knife with a blade that locks into place, or a razor with an unguarded blade."

Note that most pocket knife blades are 3" or shorter and do not lock into place.

-- this is the Sunnyvale School District Parent-Student Handbook that is referenced from the Cumberland one (see "Looking for the Parent Handbook?" at the bottom of
-- see page 12 where it says
"Stress that pocketknives on school campuses are considered weapons, not tools."

I think that classifying pocketknives as weapons instead of tools is silly. I've always carried a pocket knife since I was in second grade. I grew up in the country and use my pocket knife to open packages, cut fruit, whittle wood, sharpen pencils, cut string, cut paper to make origami, etc. It has always been an essential tool for me. We should teach our kids to use tools properly, not be scared silly of everyday things.

Finally if a kid forgot a pocket knife in their pocket after a weekend activity? That is a trifling offense.

BTW, If people really wanted to save lives, they would ban private automobiles as they have killed 30 to 40 thousand people every year since 1946 (see )


So what do you all think?

To discuss you may wish to join