Justice! 3rd Grader with Cool Knife No Longer a Criminal

Hi Readers — Here’s lovely news! Remember that third grader who was showing off his pocket knife after school and ended up EXPELLED? We ran the story on Feb. 17, asking for help and media coverage.

Got both — and JUSTICE! It started here, so thank you, readers (and 141 commenters)!! Let’s hear it for creating sanity in the world! Here’s a note from the mom who sent in the original story. — L.

Thank you thank you thank you for your incredible outpouring of support and encouragement!  
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It worked! Multiple blogs, facebook posts, online and news editorials, newsgroups threads, community group emails, a petition that garnered nearly100 supporters in just one day, two new websites urging balance to Zero Tolerance, and a middle school petition at SMS… way to mobilize!!
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The boy’s record has been cleared and his expulsion repealed.  He has been invited back to school and our superintendent will be calling the local police department to urge them to drop the charges.  However, the damage has been done and he’s terrified of Cumberland, so he will remain where he’s at for the time being.
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I think what is in order now is a very heartfelt apology from the administration, the district, and the police, and a complete overhaul of our state and district policy regarding Zero Tolerance, so this does not happen again. Many many thanks! — Julie Colwell
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In a follow-up note, I asked Julie how the story spread and got action. We can all learn some social media/social action lessons from what she wrote back:
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This was a success of social media, actually.  None of the large outlets picked it because the boy’s parents weren’t willing to talk until the criminal charges were dropped.  I didn’t want it to become old news, so I posted your blog and the letter to the editor in the Sunnyvale Sun (which is our tiny local paper — but everybody reads it) on my kids’ school newsgroups and Facebook pages.  And I started a petition on change.org which sends an automatic email to our state reps, state superintendent, district superintendent, principal and several other education officials every time someone signs it.  How annoying is that?
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From there, it spread to more local newsgroups and blogs and other social media.  Someone started a Facebook page on Zero Tolerance for Zero Tolerance.  I must have gotten over a hundred emails in support.
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But Free-Range Kids was first.  Many many thanks!  And also thanks to whomever on Free-Range Kids suggested the petition on change.com.  I’m going to keep pursuing that.  Hopefully we can make this sanity permanent!

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17 Responses to Justice! 3rd Grader with Cool Knife No Longer a Criminal

  1. Tara March 1, 2012 at 1:38 am #

    That’s terrific news!

    I don’t know if this link has already been shared, but I thought the free-rangers here would be interested: http://www.geekmom.com/2012/02/keeping-your-children-safe-online-why-stranger-danger-doesnt-work/
    This article talks about how online predators/abusers generally work the same way as in real life–by building trust and credibility in a community–and how to protect our kids against them.

  2. Lila Folster March 1, 2012 at 1:50 am #

    I think, rather than change.com (which is a website for custom bras) Julie may have meant change.org as the website she used for this purpose.

  3. JB March 1, 2012 at 2:06 am #

    What was the official name (or better yet, a URL) of the Zero Tolerance FB page. I’d “like” that!

  4. Kelly Lynne Yunkers March 1, 2012 at 2:07 am #

    Well, you know… a good bra *can* change your life.

    But, yes, Change.org would be the one that spams the world into change, one cause at a time.

  5. MrPopularSentiment March 1, 2012 at 2:46 am #

    This is so fantastic!

    As a young teen, I was involved in a similar situation. I was escorted off school grounds by a police officer and made to wait nearly a month for my “hearing.” Criminal charges were made and I had my case transferred to a probation office. Eventually, I was given a misdemeanour offence, had to do community service, had to visit with a social worker twice a week for a year, and I had to change schools (it was illegal for me to be on public school property anywhere in the state, so I had to go to a private school).

    Everyone involved in my case agreed that it should never have gone so far. I had no history of violence and a perfectly good reason to have a knife on me. All agreed that a simple talking to from the principal would have been more than enough in my case, but zero tolerance is zero tolerance.

    I have no illusions about my experiences. Had I not been white and female, emerging from that experience would have been very difficult and perhaps impossible.

    Zero tolerance is absolutely awful. It denies shades of grey and the human ability to reason. It tells school officials that they are too stupid to be trusted with making a judgement. You talk a lot about worst-first thinking, well zero tolerance is punish-first thinking. No one cares about the situation or the people involved, it’s just about punishing. And when we’re talking about kids, that’s the absolute worst attitude to have. Kids who, like me, are otherwise on the “right-track” and ready to become pro-social adults are instead made to fear “the system,” to view their country and its laws in a negative light, to be angry that no one even cared to listen to them… Far from protecting society, zero tolerance policies harm it by refusing to support and nurture kids back towards working within the rules.

    I survived my labelling because I am the very opposite of people’s image of a criminal (honour student, white, female), and that prompted people like my social worker and probation officer to go out of their way and help me successfully graduate out and move on with my life. I am so glad that this little boy may also be able to get out. I sincerely hope that this will serve as a lesson to parents and educators and anyone else responsible for the raising of our children that zero tolerance does not work and only serves to hurt kids.

  6. velobaby March 1, 2012 at 3:08 am #

    Oh yes, change.org… no custom bras for third graders. Oops!

    The Facebook page for Zero Tolerance for Zero Tolerance is here:
    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Zero-Tolerance-for-Zero-Tolerance/362877640400264

  7. Marie March 1, 2012 at 3:08 am #

    Glad to see so much progress in the case. I have some sympathy for why schools started zero tolerance, with people complaining that rules aren’t always applied equally, but zero tolerance just makes things worse for kids who don’t deserve that much trouble.

  8. Elizabeth March 1, 2012 at 3:33 am #

    I’d still like to see the officer involved lose his badge. Who threatens to shoot a third grader over something so stupid? NOT someone I’d want “protecting” me and my children!

  9. EricS March 1, 2012 at 3:39 am #

    Awesome! One down, a bunch more to go. But ONE DOWN. lol There is hope after all. 😉

  10. legalmist March 1, 2012 at 4:00 am #

    Yay for sanity!

  11. MD March 1, 2012 at 4:53 am #

    Good lord! When I grew up in Germany everybody had their kid version Swiss army knife with them to cut stuff. My nephew who grows up there still carries one. People in Europe seem to be more laid back and the society safer. I always had my knife from 5 years onwards all the way through school, noone was ever hurt.
    Good to see that this got revoked. It makes sense that in the US where children are so babied that people freak out if a teen has a knife. My son (who is three) has been using sharp knives under supervision for a year, he is using a sharp peeler to peel carrots by himself and he is using a regular knife to put butter on his bread and cut his avocado also by himself (me in the room). My American mama friends are shocked, I can only say that learning to cut with plastic knives only breeds carelessness with real ones. I taught my son how to carry knives and for that matter REAL scissors.
    When I was 6 I was proud to know how to cut sticks and food when I was out with friends and no parents were around.

  12. Catheirne Scott March 1, 2012 at 6:52 am #

    would be interested in joining the facebook 0 tolerance for 0 tolerance but couldn’t find it. Any notion how I could?

  13. J. Renquist March 1, 2012 at 8:03 am #

    I know the writer has her heart in the right place, but unfortunately, my son was at Cumberland that day, and saw the boy hold the knife to a 3 year-old in order to get a stick back from another girl who later told the principal. I think we can all agree that expulsion is a bit severe and we would all have settled for a brief suspension, but we do need to have all the facts straight.

  14. velobaby March 1, 2012 at 8:08 am #

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Zero-Tolerance-for-Zero-Tolerance/362877640400264

    This is the Facebook page on Zero Tolerance.

  15. triskelethecat March 1, 2012 at 10:02 am #

    @J Renquist: You said: “…my son was at Cumberland that day, and saw the boy hold the knife to a 3 year-old in order to get a stick back from another girl who later told the principal.”

    So, a THIRD GRADER was holding a knife to a 3 YEAR OLD in order to get a STICK back from ANOTHER GIRL??? What was the 3 year old doing alone on a school playground an hour after school was out? Why was your son there?

    I realize we are free range, but as a mother, I was at the playground when my children were 3, or they were with an older, responsible child. Sorry. I find your story hard to believe….are you sure your son isn’t being a little theatrical?

  16. J. Renquist March 1, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    Well, of course I doubt the kids (including my son) who report the more dramatic and threatening story. I am sure the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I am trying to point out however, that there IS another side. I don’t think it is unusual for a free ranging 3 year-old to be off in the 150yard distance in very large field with a group of 3rd graders.

  17. Yael March 1, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    I can’t believe I missed this. My son goes to Cumberland and this is the first I’ve heard of this. There are so many good things at this school so this makes it very upsetting for me. I agree that zero tolerance has to have sone judgement.