Lawmakers in several states want to loosen some school “zero tolerance” rules, which mandate severe punishments for weapons and drug offenses regardless of the circumstances, saying that the lack common sense, the Associated Press reports. Some examples: Fifth-graders in California who adorned their mortarboards with tiny plastic soldiers to support troops in Iraq were forced to cut off the toys’ miniature weapons. A Utah boy was suspended for giving his cousin a cold pill prescribed to both students. In Rhode Island, a kindergartner was suspended for bringing a plastic knife to school so he could cut cookies.
“A machete is not the same as a butter knife. A water gun is not the same as a gun loaded with bullets,” said Rhode Island state Sen. Daniel Issa, a former school board member who worries that no-tolerance rules are applied blindly and too rigidly. Issa sponsored a bill, which has passed both houses of the legislature. requiring school districts to decide punishments for alcohol, drug and non-firearm weapons violations on a case-by-case basis. The American Bar Association has recommended ending zero-tolerance policies. “It may be a bit of self-correction that you’re beginning to see where the pendulum is coming back,” said Kathy Christie, vice president of a research clearinghouse for Education Commission of the States in Denver. A decade ago, more than three-quarters of public schools surveyed reported adopting some version of a no-tolerance policy, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Said a psychologist: “Zero-tolerance policies completely ignore the concept of intent, which is antithetical to the American philosophy of justice.”