The Backlash Against the Columbine Backlash

Readers — As we enter 2012, there is cause for hope, as this nehbbtdzha
shows. Legislators in Colorado, home to the Columbine massacre, are taking a new and rational look at their zero tolerance laws. These are laws that REQUIRED schools to act brainlessly and not distinguish between, say, a wooden replica of a rifle and a smoking AK47. Laws that told school administrators they’d be WRONG to treat a butter knife as a butter knife rather than as a deadly weapon. According to the website

A legislative committee moved forward with a proposal that seeks to give education officials more discretion over expulsions and police referrals, which lawmakers say became more common after the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, where two students killed 13 people and then themselves.

Committee members said zero-tolerance policies adopted during the last decade have tied the hands of school administrators, who are forced to expel students or involve law enforcement for minor infractions.

How wonderful to untie the hands of school administrators and free them to reason rather than to blindly (over)react. If Colorado is where the Zero Tolerance Revolution began, let’s hope that this is where it begins its demise.

The proposed legislation would make expulsions mandatory only in cases of students bringing a firearm to school and would amend school discipline codes to distinguish minor infractions from violations that need police involvement. The proposal would also direct school boards to create discipline codes that limit suspensions and expulsions to cases where a student’s conduct threatens school safety.

Significantly, this new legislation is co-sponsored by a Democrat and a Republican — more proof that, rather than taking knee-jerk umbrage at something the other party suggested, people are starting to use their brains (and not, I guess, their knees). Let’s hear it for rationality, compassion and no longer overreacting to “threats” that don’t threaten our kids at all. — L.

If she brings a butter knife to school, she will no longer be considered armed and dangerous.

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39 Responses to The Backlash Against the Columbine Backlash

  1. Dave December 28, 2011 at 5:44 am #

    Hope remains alive and well. Let this be the beginning of a move toward a logical approach to life once again.

  2. Juliet Robertson (@CreativeSTAR) December 28, 2011 at 5:56 am #

    This is good news. I hope that more positive changes and statements will happen.

    I may have said this already, but here in Scotland, after the Dunblane tradegy, the one council that did not put in place security systems was the one local to Dunblane. I remember when the “security” measures were put in place at my school with 9 children in the middle of nowhere. I had a panic button in the school office and two walkie talkies, also with panic buttons directly linked to the local police station which was a 40 minute drive away. The coded lock on the main door regularly used to seize up and once school was even delayed from opening as we couldn’t actually open the door.

    Has “improved security” improved school’s security? I’d like to see the figures in Scotland. I’m not so sure it has. In my experience, the biggest risks have been abductions by adults known to children. This tends to happen at home time when children are normally collected.

    I currently work in a school with a “secure fencing” all round it. Within weeks, the children who were runners knew every rabbit hole that they could squeeze through! I think it’s like most risky things – a zero tolerance approach is not the way to go. Helping children become positively aware and savvy probably is. There’s some useful approaches from Scandinavia that I use this way which are based on games, activities and stories.

  3. Silver Fang December 28, 2011 at 5:58 am #

    That is indeed hopeful. How many students have had their lives ruined by being thrown out of school for bringing a picture of a gun to school or such BS?

  4. Marie December 28, 2011 at 6:09 am #

    That’s great news. Equating butter knives with larger and sharper knives, or fake guns with real ones is ridiculous.

  5. Difster December 28, 2011 at 6:28 am #

    I have a zero tolerance policy toward public schools. They do more harm than good. The government steals money from people so they can fund a bad education for everybody.

    Praising this change of zero tolerance policies is like giving the warden of the gulag a pat on the back and a hearty handshake for making the prisoners only work 13.5 hours a day instead of 13.

  6. Heather P. December 28, 2011 at 7:01 am #

    So the kid in trouble for the gun-shaped pizza slice might be off the hook. GOOD.
    Next would be making the distinction between Midol and, say, cocaine.

    An organization my daughters are in has a form where medicine involved in basic first aid–benadryl, acetaminophen, Neosporin–are identified and you can give permission for those to be administered or used without prior notification. Why can’t schools do the same?

  7. Heather G December 28, 2011 at 8:32 am #

    While I’m glad someone in power is trying to end the zero tolerance policies as it relates to weapons and weapon shaped objects, I don’t see this being the end of zero tolerance policies. As long as parents and communities ban together to rally against the problem du jour we won’t see the end of this. As this bill makes its way through the legislative process school districts across the country will be adding bullying to the list of zero tolerance policies leaving kids who disagree with a classmate in the same boat as the kids who truly harass, harm and abuse their peers.

  8. Dr. Peter Geidel December 28, 2011 at 9:48 am #

    Thank you for continuing to post intelligent appeals for our society to curb the paranoia. I used to think I was the only person who thought this way, and contemplated buying a classified ad in my local paper saying that I did not believe in this lunacy, and that future historians should make a note that I was not one of the crazies. Now I can save money and just leave this favorable comment.

  9. Cheryl W December 28, 2011 at 10:03 am #

    Thank goodness! I have this fear that my youngest son will take a Lego gun into the school when my older son gets speech therapy, and get us all in trouble. I had to fight just to sit in the library away from the freezing cold door in the foyer area.

    Fortunately, at the “regular” school, the principal just smiled when my son and his friend “cocked” their fingers and made Star War noises at each other.

  10. thinkbannedthoughts December 28, 2011 at 11:04 am #

    Thanks for the end of year common sense boost! I’m so glad my state is finally finding its way back to sanity again, perhaps it will help pave the way for others as well.
    While zero tolerance isn’t quite in the grave yet, this is a good step in the right direction. Together, we’ll get there yet.

  11. kherbert December 28, 2011 at 11:07 am #

    Heather P In Texas our school nurses have their hands legally tied. They used to have standing orders from a doctor to administer first aid type. For some reason this year the TEA advised Doctors to NOT issue standing orders to the nurses. So they can’t even put nesporum on a cut. They can give ice, wash cuts with soap and water, and put on bandaides.

    Parents can send OTC meds with a note. The note has to be renewed every X weeks. Rx meds in bottles with the Rx label or OTC meds with a doctors note and start and stop dates don’t have to be renewed.

    I like the way your daughter’s group does the permission – because the parents can identify individual meds they approve or do not approve.

    I come from a family with a history of weird atypical reactions to common OTC meds. (I tried to fly off a 3rd story balcony from a common allergy OTC med.) As a kid I had to have several arguments with adults who WOULD NOT listen and tried to give me common OTC meds that I was not supposed to take. Thankfully my parents taught me to recite my medical history and dig my heels in and make people listen. (I have several serious to potentially life threatening interrelated medical conditions).

  12. Kenny Felder December 28, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    That’s amazing! Good news is so rare in this space!

  13. JC December 28, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    I’ve never heard of a zero-tolerance policy that made any sense. The phrase zero-tolerance is a term that politicians and bureaucrats use to make themselves sound productive. The sad fact is that zero-tolerance policies are quite the opposite and wind up hurting innocent people.

  14. Gina December 28, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

    My particular favorite zero-tolerance is the one that doesn’t allow a 5-year-old to hug a classmate without being suspended for “sexual harassment”….

  15. North of 49 December 28, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

    I know of one child, in a Canadian school, that nearly got expelled for putting his hand in an “L” shape, pointing it at a teacher and going “bang” in grade 3. Grade 3. In a country that doesn’t have a right to bear arms. All because of a zero tolerance policy.

    There’s zero tolerance and then there’s insanity. Because of Columbine, schools have a kneejerk reaction about anything to do with weapons, yet there still isn’t an anti-bullying strategy that works which causes kids to go to extremes to either get back at those who have hurt them or to protect themselves.

  16. Rachel Joy Hatten December 28, 2011 at 9:10 pm #

    So proud to claim Colorado as home 🙂

    Post-hoc rules, laws, and regulations do little to rectify the initial situation. All they do is create a false sense of security and allow those who feel guilty to sleep at night—and those who feel the need to do so, to lay blame somewhere and feel ‘justice has been served.’ We talk about this often here, the “If this law had been in place before this never would have happened” Illusion-Effect.

    Great way to end the year, Lenore! Hope.

  17. Lollipoplover December 28, 2011 at 10:06 pm #

    Zero tolerance and children should never be in the same sentence. That’s like saying one type of education fits all children.
    The world is not black and white, and it is the gray areathat needs rational judgement and appropriate punishment.

    Knives are not the problem. Almost anything (including a computer) can be used as a weapon to inflict pain on another. If a child has true violent tendencies, they need help, not expulsion. Let the educators educate and not police our kids.

  18. Brian December 28, 2011 at 10:07 pm #

    The Scotland comment echoed my experience after 9/11 as people outside of NYC co-oped what happened here to advance the Patriot act and otherwise propagate fear and hate. Those most effected often understand best the need to avoid the tendency to act instead of grieve.

    We are also starting to see backlash against the TSA as well. People are finally waking up and realizing that we are terrorizing ourselves. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

  19. LRH December 28, 2011 at 10:41 pm #

    I am glad to see this also. Further, I say this everytime “schools as prisons” comes up, but it bears repeating. The worst act of school violence ever was the Bath School Disaster (that’s the Wikipedia entry), which killed more students & other people than Columbine or even the VA Tech Massacre of 2007. It happened on May 18th 1927 (yes, before the Great Depression, before Clint Eastwood was BORN), and as the Wikipedia entry states, there was no legislative response aimed at preventing a recurrence.

    May the “backlash against the backlash” continue.


  20. SgtMom December 28, 2011 at 11:05 pm #

    kherbert – I’ve worked as a Health Aide in the school district. The policies against OTCs is in place to protect the school from law-suit-happy parents.

  21. Dolly December 28, 2011 at 11:37 pm #

    Thank God! I am so ready for our school system to get rid of zero tolerance policies because they are just plain stupid. They punish innocent kids and they try to take rights they don’t have like even enforcing school policy outside of school grounds and school property. It goes too far. How about just using judgement?

  22. Edward December 29, 2011 at 1:29 am #

    Insurance companies INFECT school systems across America the same way your virus protection program is actually the biggest virus on your computer – interfering with every thing you do and sometimes preventing you from working for no explainable reason – other than to sell another year’s subscription.
    The “Insurance Disease” must be purged from all education policies in the United States.
    I have Zero Tolerance for Insurance Company Interference!
    Oops, Damn – we’re never gonna be rid of this.

  23. Robin December 29, 2011 at 2:23 am #

    At Halloween this year my son made a knife out of cardboard and aluminum foil. He was very proud of what he made and the boy he went TorT with wanted one too. He made a second one and took it to school to give to the other boy. You should have heard the other moms telling me what a bad idea it was for him to take it to school. Luckily he made it home without incident. By the way, he’s 17 and in high school. If the administrators at that age can’t tell the difference between metal and cardboard, they should not be employed.

    If Colorado passes this law, it should be duplicated in all of the other state legislatures.

  24. Havva December 29, 2011 at 2:34 am #

    I attended a school with a few zero tolerance policies back before Columbine. I am so glad to see this news, and further glad that the only committee member to vote against the proposal thought the legislation should be more relaxed.

    My school once threatened my sister with a referral (1st step to an expulsion) for *turning in* a *plastic* butter knife that mom put in her lunch. All because the school had a “zero tolerance policy” and my sister had a “knife.” Never mind the fact this “knife” was so flimsy it was ineffective at spreading peanut butter.

    I’m not normally the type to defy authority, neither were any of my friends. But when one of my friends opened her lunch to find an actual, sharp, metal knife, I instigated a plot to hide the knife. My sister’s experience sealed the deal for the dozen or so very good girls who saw that knife.

    The well behaved students at that school, were in fear of the administration every day. All that the multiple zero-tolerance policies did was nothing but teach the students to distrust school officials. They made the random inspections with the drug sniffing dogs look like a welcome relief.

  25. Brian December 29, 2011 at 4:42 am #

    Robin–again it goes to situation and judgment. If your son was in an inner city school carrying that item might create confusion leading to his being assaulted by police. Fake guns and knives are pretty dangerous things, especially if you are poor or black.

    I am more confused about the mom’s who know what your son is bringing to school at 17. Not really sure how to read that. I think I might agree with them that its not a great idea.

    But what is more on point is that this is the exception which is why mandatory punishments are so problematic. There are times when it is innocent.

  26. Jess December 29, 2011 at 6:14 am #

    As a Coloradoan, I am soooo glad they are taking this step. I hope they follow through and actually remove more (nay, all) zero-tolerance policies. My nephew goes to a high school with a large courtyard in the center of the school (the school is a square with a green space in the middle). Since Columbine, that courtyard has been closed off to students for “security”, but you have to go through the school to get to the courtyard. Nonsense like that has to stop.

  27. kherbert December 29, 2011 at 7:30 am #

    Not all school’s have such stupid policies.

    — Several years ago one of my 5th graders came to me upset. He had gone camping over the weekend and forgot to take his pocket knife out of his backpack. I took him to our AP. We locked the knife in the school safe, so he couldn’t be accused by another student of doing anything with it. The AP called the boy’s dad to come pick up the knife. The Dad punished the boy because he had specifically told him to make sure all nonschool items were out of the backpack. The AP praised the student for having the courage to admit making a mistake.

    – Last year a boy brought sparing weapons/tools from his martial arts class to school. These are designed for kids and really can’t do any harm. Thing was this kid was very, very, very impulsive and was the type other kids often fooled into getting into trouble for their own amusement. Knowing some of the kids on the same afternoon bus as him – I knew there was a high probability that he would be talked into getting them out and fooling around with them on the bus – and that could lead to him losing bus privileges. On my conference period I called his mom, and we decided I would lock them up and she would have her Mom pick him up after school. The only way my admin was involved is I sent them an e-mail.

    – Several kids in my class bring silverware in their lunch kits. I’m teaching 2nd grade this year and it hasn’t been a problem.

  28. Gina December 29, 2011 at 7:33 am #

    Regarding TSA, etc…

    “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” — Benjamin Franklin

  29. hineata December 30, 2011 at 4:22 am #

    Kherbert – thank goodness some schools over there have sensible policies. Where I teach, we tend to complain if the children do NOT bring their own knives etc to spread peanut butter etc, LOL! Especially me, as I am miles from the staffroom and it’s a right pain having to trek over there to get silverware for them. Why don’t I bring silverware from home as spares? Because I suffer from absentmindedness, and the thought seems to disappear in the morning when I’m chasing my own kids out the door before leaving for work.

    I think the whole ‘no knives’ thing is really sad. As kids we loved taking pocket knives to school to do whittling etc. These days even in NZ you’re not supposed to have these to school. If you really want to injure someone, you can do it with a chair, a metre ruler, even a normal ruler. And compasses work well too, as do pens (as my son found out when he teased the girl beside him once too often, and she left him with a puncture wound in his leg – I had zero sympathy 🙂 ). Knives are useful for many other things than injuring people….

  30. Lollipoplover December 30, 2011 at 4:50 am #

    In my experience, scissors are a truly nasty tool. My daughter at age 2 needed stitches in her pinky finger when my son helped her cut a craft (kid’s scissors, too). She was also stabbed in preschool with scissors by a kid that to this day has the nickname “Billy the Stabber”. Why no zero tolerance of scissors, staplers, and paper cutters?

  31. Jules December 30, 2011 at 6:46 am #

    More sensible than this. Assault with a deadly pizza? Frlz?

  32. Gems December 30, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    Guns and knives…zero tolerance. Oh, and bombs! But I am glad that there is some rational thinking about other objects. I have sharp teacher’s scissors on my desk…should I be hauled off to the principal’s office?

  33. Michelle December 30, 2011 at 9:33 am #

    Maybe sanity will return! Hooray!

    I actually had to bash my own husband tonight when he commented that the man who gave my son and his friend $5 to bowl another game was probably a “Chester the Molester”. We live in a very small town. The bowling alley is all of 12 lanes and there were people all over and the man was with his wife or girlfriend. Perhaps he saw these teen boys (13 and 14) doing something safe and constructive rather than running the streets and thought paying for another game was just a NICE thing to do! Luckily my kids are more in tune with my free range parenting then their dad’s paranoia.

  34. Myriam December 30, 2011 at 6:26 pm #

    In some UK supermarkets small plastic picnic knives are restricted items that can’t be sold to under 18s. I know this because I was putting my shopping through the self service check out the other day and an alert came up that said I was trying to buy a restricted item and someone had to check I was the right age.

    I told the assistant there had been a malfunction, but she said no – it’s the plastic cutlery.

    Oh well, best to be on the safe side I suppose. You never know, a juvenile delinquent might get hold of one and try to butter someone to death.

  35. menageriemom December 31, 2011 at 12:35 am #

    We are privileged to be part of a very large homeschool cooperative with common sense parents and rules. Our students are allowed to bring in firearms for speech demonstrations or history classes – most of our kids live in the country though, where these items are an everday part of their lives. The other week, I needed to fix an instrument in a music class that I teach, asked if anyone had a pocketknife or screwdriver, and I immediately had at least six boys and a girl or two handing me their pocketknives – some complete with screwdrivers built in! We have never had any issues with violence or threats, even with pocket-knife toting boys and girls!

  36. Robin January 1, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

    Brian, don’t know if you’ll see this, but I thought I’d answer your questions. We are not in an inner city neighborhood, we are the definition of suburbia. We have a very mixed ethnic population. We are lily white but the boy my son brought the knife to is Indian.

    Other moms knew about this because I posted some Halloween pictures to facebook and commented about how proud he was of his creation and that he made a second one for the other boy. Simple mama pride.

    It was totally innocent and I think if he had gotten in trouble for it I would not have taken the punishment quietly.

  37. LtPowers January 21, 2012 at 4:49 am #

    Someone get that poor bari sax player a neck strap. How can she hold it like that for more than two minutes?

  38. NotSure March 14, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    Zero tolerance policies are idiotic and I’m glad this kind of thing is being corrected.

    I’m curious to know where everybody stands on the subject of specific, violent threats in school. If a child announces that he’s going to bring a gun to school and shoot everybody (and let’s just say he comes from a home where firearms are present, albeit “locked up”), how should the school handle this? Put him in “time out”? Give him a stern talking to? Suspension? Expulsion? At what point should this kind of thing become a concern? Is a threat of this nature to be taken seriously? Is it even a threat, or just an off-hand comment from an upset student?


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