15 Oct 2009

45 Days Reform School For Cub Scout Camping Gear

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The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein would describe it as a species of linguistic confusion when school administrators confuse a harmless dining utensil with a weapon.


Zachary Christie, 6, was happy about joining the Cub Scouts and was excited about a new camping utensil that functions as a spoon, fork and knife — so excited that he took the tool to school to use it at lunch.

But the Newark, Del., boy’s enthusiasm got him kicked out of school for violating a zero-tolerance policy on weapons. …

The first-grader faces 45 days in reform school after officials determined the camping utensil violated the Christina School District’s ban on knives. His mother is home-schooling him while his family appeals the punishment.

But the New York Times explains that another factor is in play in promoting this kind of irrationality. Racial politics come into play when the youth who brought a knife to school to rob other children of their lunch money is disarmed and punished, so it becomes necessary to send the six-year-old cub scout with the camping kit to reform school, too, to prove that you are not racially biased.

Spurred in part by the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings, many school districts around the country adopted zero-tolerance policies on the possession of weapons on school grounds. More recently, there has been growing debate over whether the policies have gone too far.

But, based on the code of conduct for the Christina School District, where Zachary is a first grader, school officials had no choice. They had to suspend him because, “regardless of possessor’s intent,” knives are banned. …

Education experts say that zero-tolerance policies initially allowed authorities more leeway in punishing students, but were applied in a discriminatory fashion. Many studies indicate that African-Americans were several times more likely to be suspended or expelled than other students for the same offenses.

“The result of those studies is that more school districts have removed discretion in applying the disciplinary policies to avoid criticism of being biased,” said Ronnie Casella, an associate professor of education at Central Connecticut State University who has written about school violence. He added that there is no evidence that zero-tolerance policies make schools safer.


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