A Knife Through the Heart of “Zero Tolerance” Laws!

Readers — Here ktfntabsdn
is great news!
Do you remember the two lacrosse players who were found guilty last year of carrying dangerous weapons because they had in their gym bags two small knives and a lighter — items they used to repair their lacrosse gear? Well, unbelievably, their case has been reversed!!  This, says the Washington Post, despite the fact the officials were STILL saying:

We consider bringing a knife to school one of the most serious offenses that a student can commit,” the officials said.The case reflects continuing tension about tough rules intended to keep students safe. Critics say they often go too far and don’t make schools safer. Supporters say that strong lines need to be drawn and that too much discretion can lead to preferential treatment.
I’m not sure I can think of any big-time supporters of Zero Tolerance anymore. Can you? The schools that dig their heels in always seem to be doing so because they’re stuck defending a dumb decision someone on staff made and they’re trying to make the best of it. So they go on and on about how crucial their rigid rules are for (this will shock you) the safety of the children!  
How nice that those words don’t always work their magic! – Lenore (in Australia with very spotty internet service, so I can’t post as much this week as usual. Sorry! )

44 Responses to A Knife Through the Heart of “Zero Tolerance” Laws!

  1. baby-paramedic April 30, 2012 at 8:34 pm #

    Welcome to Australia! We have many great things, but a reliable, fast internet service (apart from areas with the NBN) is almost unheard of.

  2. Suze April 30, 2012 at 9:29 pm #

    My son could have very well been one of them. When he was in high school, he had a part time job at a grocery store (which happened to only be two blocks from his school) He used to take his uniform in his back pack and change when school ended on the days he had to work after school. Part of his job required him to have a “safety knife” for cutting open boxes which they gave him and he had to bring it to work with him at every shift. This required him to have it in his back pack with him in his locker at school. He knew zero tolerance policies but never said a word that he had this with him and no…. the grocery store wouldn’t just let them leave the knives there. They were given to them and to be brought back and forth. Now, I thought under the circumstances to appease school rules that he could ask his boss at work to leave the knife there but they didn’t want “a box of knives” hanging about so hence the fact they were to be kept with them. I shudder to think if another kid ever found out that was in there or even the school as he would have been suspended (minimum 4 days in our area with a background check by police for weapons in the home) and also subject to expulsion just for having something required and in no way brandished on school property for the sake of his part time job.

  3. skl1 April 30, 2012 at 9:39 pm #

    “bringing a knife to school one of the most serious offenses that a student can commit” – where was this guy born? Ever heard of rape, assault (without a knife), harrassment, bullying, theft, bomb threats, etc.? Bringing a knife is benign unless it is used in a threat or assault. Might as well ban teeth since they could be used in biting and biting someone would be bad.

  4. skl1 April 30, 2012 at 9:43 pm #

    Come to think of it, one of the more violent experiences I had in high school involved being scratched. I think fingernails should be banned. I was also poked with pens and pencils and punched a few times. (Yeah, I was bullied.) But I was never threatened with a knife or sharp tool, even though there was no no-tolerance rule against knives when I was a kid, and even though we used sharp tools in biology lab, wood shop, and art.

  5. Becky April 30, 2012 at 10:44 pm #

    I’m a fencer. In my tool-kit for repair of fencing equipment are exacto knives, box cutters, lighters, superglue, wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers, wire strippers and a bolt cutter (although I don’t usually carry that last one around with me). Oh, and you know, the equipment itself could probably be considered “weapons” even though it’s not sharp or dangerous to anyone who knows how to use it. There aren’t too many high schools with fencing programs anymore, but still, these are the necessary tools of a sport. Fencing uses electronic equipment that requires a lot of upkeep. The question should not be what kids are bringing with them to school, but why.

  6. Emily April 30, 2012 at 10:47 pm #

    Lol at the spotty Internet service–I agree. I lived in Wollongong, Australia, for two years, and the Internet there wasn’t very good, but I loved living there anyway. Lenore. what part of Australia are you in? Anyway, as for the article, I agree–zero tolerance is often just code for “zero flexibility” or “zero common sense.” Whatever happened to looking at each individual situation to determine if the student actually did anything wrong? When I was in high school and university, on any given day, you could find OTC meds in my backpack (Advil or similar, and later, anxiety meds for my panic attacks), a nail file and sometimes cigarette paper in my clarinet case, paint thinner, picture wire, and a palette knife in with my painting things, and (when I was living off-campus at Western, or when I went to the uni gym while living in Australia), a razor in my gym bag.

    Technically, these things were contraband, but I never got into any trouble for them, because everyone knew that sometimes, “dangerous” items are necessary for playing a musical instrument, painting, personal hygiene and health, and just living life in general. If someone didn’t understand what something was for, they’d just ask, and I’d tell them. For example, the cigarette paper was to clean underneath my clarinet keys, and the nail file was for breaking in reeds, and sometimes for filing down cork after replacing it myself, and a palette knife is about as threatening as a butter knife–that’s basically what it is; just with a different-shaped handle. I did get mildly admonished one day in high school for giving another girl a Tylenol, but that was the end of it, and the teacher didn’t punish me, or even stop me, he just said it wasn’t “kosher.” But, the way he said it, it was obvious that he thought the rule was stupid too. That wasn’t even that long ago, so it’s crazy that things have become so much stricter since then. Or, has the U.S. always been more strict than Canada about zero tolerance?

  7. CrazyCatLady April 30, 2012 at 10:51 pm #

    Suze, what state are you in? I have never heard of a weapon check at home for something at school. Somehow it doesn’t seem too surprising though.

  8. Emily April 30, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

    Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention–we started using Exacto Knives in art class in grade six. This was in 1995-1996, at a regular public school that had plenty of other stupid and arbitrary rules, but we still used Exacto Knives for art class (and once, a different kind of knife for carving lino blocks to make prints), hand saws and sometimes even power tools when we had shop class, and we were allowed real sports balls on the playground. Cartwheels and handstands and other gymnastic stunts at recess were discouraged at the school I went to from grades 5-8, but only because it was a concrete playground with no grass. The school I went to before that (for K-4) had grass, and teachers would actually encourage kids to do cartwheels, believe it or not.

  9. Heather G May 1, 2012 at 12:13 am #

    In high school my backpack weighed 60+ pounds if I had homework for every class. Knocked myself out once when I swung it too fast trying to put it on while simultaneously standing up. Let me tell you, THAT was a weapon. The swiss army knife on my key chain (a gift from my boss after I lodged a pen in my hand trying to MacGyver a box open), not so much.

  10. Eleanor (undeadgoat) May 1, 2012 at 12:15 am #

    I’m pretty sure my school district never made it all the way to zero-tolerance. When I was in about sixth grade, a kid at a different middle school got suspended for bringing a knife to class to cut a grapefruit; later we went to high school together and I found out that since he’d grown up in Denmark his parents were not as hypersensitive to not bringing knives to school and cutting your fruites and vegetables at home as American parents were. This was about 10 years ago, and it was enough to cause a really big stink about administrators needing to use their judgement.

  11. Suze May 1, 2012 at 12:17 am #


    I’m in Canada in the province of Ontario. If you are caught in high school with anything perceived as a “weapon” automatically the police are called and an computer background check is done of your residence to see if anyone in that residence has registered weapons. They would only enter the home to check if they found out there are weapons from what I understand. Hopefully that clears that up for you !!!

  12. BL May 1, 2012 at 12:27 am #

    Good news as far as it goes. It would be better if the principal and his cohorts went to jail for this.

  13. Jim Collins May 1, 2012 at 12:49 am #

    A lot of good the reversal does the student charged with possession of a deadly weapon.

    In the early 80’s one of the required items for my Drafting class was a penknife with at least a 2″ blade. This was to be used to sharpen drafting pencils and to cut 3D visualizations out of gum erasers. It was my last class of the day, right before I had practice for the RIFLE team I was on.

  14. James May 1, 2012 at 12:49 am #

    I agree we should ban teeth next. This is ridiculous.

  15. Jen Connelly May 1, 2012 at 1:20 am #

    Yay, some good news.

    On the subject of “dangerous” items in school. I remember when my brother was in high school (late 90s, graduated in 98) he took a drafting class and was required to have exacto knives and all sorts of other pointy, sharp tools. He kept them in his locker at school when he wasn’t using them. These were required items he had to buy.

    I do remember using scalpels and stuff in biology class. Of course they stayed in the room but we were warned on the first day of the dissecting section that the knives were super sharp, just like doctor’s used and the slightest touch will cut you and deep. She also said that if we cut ourselves she wouldn’t be sending up to the nurse because she had raised 6 boys and was damn good with a thread and needle. Not sure she would have stuck with that should someone actually get hurt but us girls too it to heart. No one got so much as a scratch (we were in 10th grade so 15-16 years old).

    Oh, and in high school I was on the stage crew for our annual musical. We had every kind of saw and power tool imaginable. You had to prove to the guy in charge (I think he was the husband of the director who was the chorus/acting teacher at the school). After that we were left to our devices to complete the set. He was only really around the first couple weeks to help us sort out the designs but we built the thing. People occasionally got hurt–slammed fingers with hammers, scrapes and small cuts, burns from the drills (never touch the drill head after it’s been drilling a hole… it’s hot!), etc. And my senior year there was a boy that cut a finger off while improperly using a circular saw. He was rushed to the ER down the street by some other kids and came back later that day. Everyone laughed about it and he was banned from using the saws because of stupidity.

    We still used them all unsupervised. We were 14-18 years old. Apparently back in the 90s this was considered old enough to use our brains (for the most part). Now those same kids would be treated like they were idiots or 10 years old. Sad.

  16. Ann In L.A. May 1, 2012 at 1:21 am #

    I believe that much of the fear among school administrators, and why they embrace zero-tolerance, is that they are terrified that allowing staff to use their own judgement will result in different treatment of minorities and lead to civil-rights lawsuits. They easiest way to avoid that is to be uniformly stupid. It’s more important for them to have uniformity in punishments than it is to be seen to be smart.

  17. Steve May 1, 2012 at 3:07 am #

    I grew up in ranch country most boys from the ranches carried knives. It wasn’t a weapon, it was a tool.

  18. KimCmumof2boys May 1, 2012 at 6:06 am #

    My oldest son starts K in the fall. He’s in preschool right now & luckily, he has a very common sense driven teacher. My son is a happy, active kid who loves to play. Him & some other boys wrestle a bit in the gym. As long as they are not getting too rough, the teacher is fine with the boys playing that way. Once he starts K, I don’t know how strict the school will be. Zero Tolerance seems to have turned into ‘let’s not actually use our brains’ & ‘punish every single incident as if it were a criminal offense’.

    I remember having a box cutter in my bag at school – used them at my part time job & I’m sure ppl my have seen it a time or two.

  19. Donna May 1, 2012 at 6:28 am #

    ‘We consider bringing a knife to school one of the most serious offenses that a student can commit”

    Really school official? BRINGING a knife to school is one of the most serious offenses that a student can commit? Not threatening someone with a knife or stabbing someone with a knife, but the mere BRINGING of the knife? One does not mean that the other definitely must occur. One can BRING a knife for innocent purposes (their main purpose is cutting some object and most people do use them in that fashion and not for stabbing other people) and one can accidentally BRING a knife. Shouldn’t DOING something improper with the knife actually be “one of the most serious offenses that a student can commit” rather than merely possessing a perfectly legal, inanimate object?

    I’m not saying that knives should be allowed in schools. I’m okay with a “no knife” policy. There is no real reason that knives must be possessed in school. I just don’t think that the mere BRINGING of a knife to school should be defined as a most serious anything. Nor should it receive an expulsion.

  20. Wendy May 1, 2012 at 6:50 am #

    Um, sorry to derail the thread with an off-topic link, Lenore, but I was unsure of how else to contact you and bring this to your attention. http://www.momsrising.org/blog/no-kids-under-18-allowed-outside-without-adult-supervision/ Although I can say that, related to your blog post, I can add my voice to the all of the outraged reactions. “Most serious offense,” indeed….. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

  21. hineata May 1, 2012 at 6:54 am #

    @KimC – good luck with that! Are the other kids at the preschool going on to the same school? It’s just that if they are, there may already be a good flow of information and a like mentality between the two places. Let’s hope so 🙂

  22. Ms. Herbert May 1, 2012 at 8:09 am #

    Just so you all know that not all administrators are idiots.

    Former AP
    A student accidently brought his pocket knife to school after a camping trip. The AP took the knife and locked it up. Then he called the parent to pick it up. The Father did punish the boy – because he told his son to dump ever thing out then repack for school. No school punishment.

    I was out for the day, and had the sub from hell. He encouraged a couple of boardline bullies to pick on the smallest boy in class. A boy who was small because he had been STARVED and abused. He told this adoptive family who came into file a complaint.

    In the meantime I took the kids to the bathroom a boy we will call imp walked up behind smallest boy in the bathroom and said boo. Smallest boy did what his family had told him to do – he defended himself. Smallest boy was also a green belt. Imp got a busted lip.

    Smallest boy and Imp went to the AP’s office. Once he heard the full story AP called Imp’s father and told him about the injury and some background on what had happened. Imp’s father talked to his son – and told AP that if smallest boy was punished he would raise hell. That his son got no more or less than he deserved for scaring the other boy.

    Smallest boy – None we did file a report with his councilor.

    Imp Busted lip and lecture from Dad about how he deserved it.

    Bullies – 2 Days ISS and the parents made the kids pay for some stuff of Smallest boy’s that was broken in when they threw his backpack out the window. Both sets of parents hit the roof with their kids about their behavior.

    Sub – FIRED YEA!!!!! (There was an investigation and he had locked kids out of my portable and made them climb in and out a window. A couple of kids nearly wet themselves because he wouldn’t allow them to go to the bathroom.) Our school got a new unofficial policy after that week of hell (another teacher went to a conference earlier that week and had 2 subs from hell one of which seemed to have a copy of the DSMR because her note to the teacher was 5 pages long and had a psychological diagnoses for each student) The AP and a set of aides would pop into portables with subs to check on things.

  23. Uly May 1, 2012 at 9:33 am #

    That’s been posted already, Wendy 🙂 It’s on the second page of entries, I think.

  24. Christy Rachelle Ford May 1, 2012 at 10:56 am #

    I remember the compasses we were supposed to use in geometry, the metal kind with a very sharp point. Could have easily taken someone’s eyes out. 😛 lol

  25. Emily May 1, 2012 at 11:52 am #

    ^Oh, yeah, I remember using compasses too.

  26. G May 1, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

    Welcome to Australia! Are you on the project tonight? I’m excited, hope it goes well for you!

  27. Leonard Ewy May 1, 2012 at 10:45 pm #

    “Bringing a knife to school is one of the worst offenses a student can commit”??????????????????? Only if he used it to hurt someone. A knife is a tool.

  28. Wendy May 2, 2012 at 4:38 am #

    Thanks, Uly. LOL! I just got it in my newsfeed yesterday, but leave it to this blog to beat me to the punch! 🙂

  29. Emily May 2, 2012 at 6:55 am #

    I agree with Leonard. It’s equally possible to stab someone with a sharpened pencil, or a pen, but that doesn’t make pencils and pens weapons, it just means that the person using them that way is misusing them.

  30. Rob May 2, 2012 at 8:20 pm #

    Hi Lenore,

    It was great to hear you speak at La Tobe Uni in Bendigo tonight – I pledge to give my teenagers a bit more freedom, but only if they promise to leave me alone a bit more too!

    One of my biggest gripes are all the mothers who drive their kids to school because the roads are so busy – not realising the fact that they are probably four times as busy as usual when all the mothers are driving their kids to and from school!

  31. Stephanonymou May 2, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

    I think this line speaks volumes:

    “We consider bringing a knife to school one of the most serious offenses that a student can commit”

    Simply BRINGING the knife to school is one of the most serious crimes a student can commit? Not actually stabbing someone with it, but just bringing it? And I really have a hunch that to the zero-tolerance police, there isn’t much of a discernible difference between one and the other. It’s like yelling rape when all that’s occurred is sexual harassment.

  32. Carol May 3, 2012 at 7:35 am #

    At our high school, sometimes students who work in grocery stores or in construction forget box cutters in their bags. We have metal detectors and kids get picked up. We won’t suspend a student for that if they genuinely forgot about it, but we will confiscate it and issue a warning to the student. I don’t think bringing a small knife to school is acceptable, even if it is used to repair sports equipment. If that’s the case, the coach should have that stuff. I teach in NYC though, so perhaps I’m biased/suspicious/one of those “dumb people.”

    Also, @Stephan – simply bringing a knife to school is NOT one of the most serious crimes a student can commit – at least not at our school.

  33. hineata May 3, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    Ms Herbert – I think I love you, and your school, and especially your ‘parents’! What oldfashined, sensible, commonsense thinking! Bet the ‘bullies’ never try anything like that again…..

    Fortunately most of the parents I work with are similar, so maybe it (common sense) is not as rare as it sometimes seems.

    And, sorry, off topic a bit, but just got a text from the 15 year old, who has been struggling in some of his classes because, quote, the others don’t want to work and the teacher spends all his time on control. When we ‘suggested’ that he needed to sort issues out with the dean himself – he’ll be at uni in three years time, after all- he went through the channels and then decided to stay in his current stream and just nut out the issues, as otherwise he’d have to opt out of his favourite subject. Anyway he got together with a group of three girls in his science class and they have been working together using the textbook and just ignoring the stuff going on around them as much as possible….and they just got excellences in their latest assessments!

    Yay for teens using their common sense :-)… and being able – with slight assistance from the teacher, who allowed them to group themselves together – to sort out their own problems….

    (Proud mum….maybe he’ll survive real life after all!)

  34. hineata May 3, 2012 at 10:42 am #

    Sorry, not a huge achievement in the scheme of things, but when your kid is often a bundle of nerves, every step toward confidence is good to see…In contrast to the greatly overconfident 11 year old, who I fully expect to wake up and find a note from shortly explaining how she’s moved to Spain overnight. Alone 🙂

  35. Emily May 3, 2012 at 11:40 am #

    ^No, Hineata, that IS a huge achievement for a fifteen-year-old. Working with (and despite) people who cause trouble can be difficult even for adults. When I was in university, I often had issues with people in chamber ensemble (music major here), and sometimes, it became completely untenable–like, the girl who repeatedly blew off rehearsal, or showed up hungover, or the time I was in a group with my two best friends, but one of them would often not show up, and not call, and then give flaky excuses like “needing to buy groceries.” So, in those situations, I’d either just let it go (while silently seething inside), or tell our professor. Maybe that was the coward’s way out, but I guess I just wanted to keep the peace sometimes, and other times, I didn’t want to be the “bad guy”–so, it was easier to say, “The prof says we have to rehearse every week,” or whatever the issue was, than it was to bring up the issue myself, and risk causing an argument.

  36. Pugs May 3, 2012 at 10:32 pm #

    A principal that undstands zero tolerance doesn’t work


  37. Mike May 4, 2012 at 3:56 am #

    The whole reason for zero-tolerance policies is the rampart fear of false discrimination charges. Imagine: A White student commits a minor infraction, while a minority student commits a major infraction. White gets minor punishment, minority gets major punishment. Then, the racial grievance industry starts screaming discrimination, bias, racism, intolerance, etc etc.

    The administrators are in deadly fear of that happening, so they punish every situation the same, no matter how or if the punishment is warranted, or even makes sense.

    Sadly, the administrators are generally not media savvy enough to tell the race huskers to go pound sand.

  38. Ann In L.A. May 4, 2012 at 11:29 pm #

    Not all the discrimination is actually false.

  39. Uly May 5, 2012 at 12:02 am #

    Much of it is true, in fact, Ann. And of the cases that ARE they’re rarely so blatant as Mike is suggesting. It’s two cases that look similar on the surface but have a number of small-yet-crucial differences.

  40. Ozzy May 14, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    I’m not a parent yet but i’m interested in this entire site and especially this issue. When i was in highschool (graduated 07 so ya i’m young) a convicted felon got loose from the police and was on the run by our highschool my physcis teacher locked the doors turned out the lights and said three things i will always remember “Guys i know you have pocket knives so pull ’em out, the rest of you who don’t there are the metal bars in the back.” Later he complained to our class and the admin about how he couldn’t have his gun (using all nessecary precautions) in his office.


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