Here’s a wonderful little story about how doing the right thing can often get you into trouble: Holding a Knife Too Long Gets Stanton 5th-Grader in Trouble – LATimes.com
No one disputes that fifth-grader Keith Post was right to turn in the pocketknife he found Monday.
What is being called into question is the two hours Keith took to turn it in to his teacher after finding it in the cafeteria of his Stanton elementary school—and whether that delay is just cause for the boy to be suspended under the district’s zero-tolerance weapons policy.
Although Keith’s five-day suspension from Pyles Elementary was reduced Tuesday to one day, he and his parents say that being punished at all for doing the right thing is unacceptable.
Administrators said they have no wiggle room in enforcing the Magnolia School District’s zero-tolerance policy. The rules state that any child who has a weapon at school is to be automatically suspended for five days and a hearing held at the school.
A lot of so-called “zero tolerance” rules went into effect in a lot of schools in reaction to the various school shootings that have made the headlines over the past few years, Columbine being probably the biggest. Most of the time these sort of rules and laws are created as a knee-jerk emotional response to a recent tragedy because “dammit, someone ought to do something” and there’s little rational thought given to the full implications of the new rule or law until something like this story happens.
The problem with zero-tolerance rules is exactly that they give “no wiggle room” as the officials in the story have said. They don’t allow for the folks in charge to exercise discretion and judgment on a case-by-case basis because the rule has already determined for you whether you’re guilty or not and what your punishment must be. It’s often a perfect example of trying to apply “black and white” logic to a reality where situations are rarely so clearly defined.
Pyles Principal Rick Johnson said the policy, which is invoked about five times a year at his school, is intended to create a safe environment for students. He said Keith’s spotless discipline record and the circumstances of the situation “look positive,” but added that the 10-year-old deserves some punishment for not turning over the knife immediately.
“He did the right thing in turning it in,” Johnson said. “Where he went wrong is holding onto it for a long length of time. He had the opportunity to turn it in and didn’t.”
I’m sure Principal Johnson believes he is teaching the kids a lesson in the importance of turning in something like a found pocket-knife immediately, but what he’s really teaching the kids is that if they do the right thing and turn it in there’s a good chance they could end up being punished for their good deed. This breeds distrust of authority and for good reason. Keith says in the news story that he held onto the knife for two hours because he was scared authorities would think it was his. That sort of internal struggle is quite understandable when you know you have found something that could possibly get you suspended from school or, in some communities where it’s a law and not a rule, arrested. After all, it’s your word against the officials and apparently being a model citizen and having a clean record with the school, which Keith does, doesn’t count for much with Principal Johnson.
“The law is written and intended for those who get caught with a weapon,” said Post, a construction foreman. “Keith turned it in. He deserves to be made into an example of good behavior, not to be punished.”
Keith said he is baffled and angry about what happened. Despite the consequences, he doesn’t regret turning over the knife or telling the truth about holding onto it for two hours.
“It was the right thing to do,” he said. “I can’t let myself do bad things.”
Indeed, Keith could have decided to just hold onto the knife until he got home and the officials probably never would’ve known about it and he wouldn’t have gotten into trouble and gotten suspended from school and his record would be clean. That’s the lesson the school has taught its kids with this incident. Worse, Keith could have just left the knife where he found it or dropped it someplace else in the school where some other kid may have found it and actually put it to use. The fact that he held onto it for two hours is less important than the facts that A) he didn’t harm anyone with it and B) he did eventually turn it in.
But then there’s no room for discretion and common sense when you’re dealing with zero-tolerance policies. Justice is reduced to a simple and initially palatable McNugget formula of “knives are bad so people with knives are bad” regardless of the how or why or intent. As the LA Times points out, this is an incident that is repeated often around the country such as a 10-year-old Colorado girl who was expelled after accidentally bringing her mother’s bread knife to school and then turning it over to school officials and a 12-year-old boy expelled from a Corona school for possessing fingernail clippers.
Did you get that? Expelled for fingernail clippers!?!
What the fuck is he going to do with fingernail clippers?? Viciously give someone a manicure?? I carry fingernail clippers around with me all the time because I make my living typing and when my nails get too long I can’t type worth a shit. Plus I always seem to get hangnails when I’m away from home and the one thing that most women don’t seem to carry in the little black-holes they call purses are fingernail clippers.
I can see the headlines now: LOCAL MAN HOLDS OFFICE BUILDING HOSTAGE WITH DANGEROUS PAIR OF FINGERNAIL CLIPPERS! DEMANDS NEW LAW REQUIRING ALL POLITICIANS TO HAVE WORKING BRAINS BEFORE BEING ELIGIBLE FOR ELECTION!
STAND BACK! I HAVE A NAIL FILE AND I KNOW HOW TO USE IT! DON’T MAKE ME USE IT! PLEASE, GOD, DON’T MAKE ME HAVE TO USE IT!!!!