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Raleigh Walker III is a 3rd-grade honor roll student, a smart and creative kid, the kind of kid who finds it easy to get busted in today’s panic-stricken school climate.
Raleigh got suspended from Lenwil Elementary for drawing a picture of a fort and soldier and bringing it to school. The soldier was a camouflaged G.I. Joe-like commando holding a knife in one hand and a canteen in the other. The picture of the fort included a list of the inventory: 5,000 knives, 200 M-16s, 109 pistols and 67 first-aid kits. The drawing, explained Raleigh’s father, was a tribute to a relative in the Army.
Still, the principal at Lenwil, Edward Davis, found the drawing “upsetting,” a violation of the school’s policy on firearms: “We have zero tolerance for drawings with guns. We can’t tolerate anything that has to do with guns and knives.” Willie Isby, the director of child welfare and attendance, agreed. “It is,” said Isby, assessing the drawing, “a violent arrangement here.”
Raleigh’s father saw the “arrangement” differently: “The drawing wasn’t of a child pointing a gun at another child. It’s not someone killing someone, and it’s not a school. It’s a third-grader’s drawing of an Army guy, a relative.”
Coast to coast, all the crazy cases can’t be compressed into 800 words, but here’s a sample. All it took was a little kiss on a classmate’s cheek for 1st-grader Johnathan Prevett in North Carolina to be charged with “unwarranted and unwelcome touching.” In Florida, Asher Zaslaw was charged with “criminal wiretapping” for taping a chemistry class without the
teacher’s knowledge. Also in Florida, a girl was suspended for bringing a nail clipper to class. In Georgia, a 6th-grade girl was suspended because her Tweety Bird wallet, hanging from a thin 10-inch chain, was judged to be a potential weapon.
In Arkansas, a 1st-grader was suspended for pointing a breaded chicken finger at a teacher, and it was a suspension for “racial harassment” in Kansas for a 13-year-old who drew a picture of a Confederate flag on a scrap of paper. In New Jersey, two 2nd-graders were charged with making “terrorist threats” after playing cops-and-robbers with paper guns. In Pontiac, Mich., a 3rd-grader was suspended after he found a piece of jewelry in a snowbank, a 1-inch gun-shaped medallion, and brought it to class.
In Virginia, it was the waving of a stapler on a bus that got a 12-year-old boy expelled. In Ohio, a 9-year-old boy, given the assignment of writing a fortune cookie message, was suspended for writing, “You will die with honor.” And in Inverness, Fla., 6th-grader Kyle Fredrikson made the mistake of stomping his foot in a puddle and splashing classmates and a school employee. A nearby deputy arrested and handcuffed 12-year-old Fredrikson, tossed him in a patrol car and whisked him off to jail.
Clearly, the system is now more out of control than the kids, so far off the mark that the leadership of the American Bar Association has voted that schools should completely do away with zero tolerance policies. “Theories of punishment that were once directed to adult criminals are now applied to 1st-graders,” says the ABA, “resulting in thousands of unnecessary expulsions and suspensions.”
What the American Bar Association didn’t say is that much of the craziness can be placed at its own doorstep. The advice from a lawyer for the National Education Association to the organization’s membership, for instance, illustrates how our litigation-crazy society has produced a proliferation of illogical rules and a shortage of common sense: “If you hug a child, even a child who is hurt or crying, I will break your arms and legs. If kids need help in the bathroom, take an aide with you, or let them go on the floor.”
Vincent Ferrandino, executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, states it plainly: “Whenever we plan for anything in a school today, our first consideration is how to avoid a lawsuit.” The result is a world where Theresa Holowach can’t send her 8-year-old son and kindergartner-to-be daughter to school with a cereal bar
and a homemade muffin. “I was refused permission to send snacks,” she explains, “on the grounds that the school would be legally liable if actions were not taken to limit the risks for children with allergies.”
And so, we’re at the point where West Annapolis Elementary School in Maryland has banned the game of tag because it violates the school’s no-touching policy, officials at Winneconne High in Wisconsin have banned t-shirts with the “Billabong” brand name because it’s too suggestive of “bong,” the term for a marijuana pipe, the Austin Independent School District has banned dodgeball, and the game of musical chairs is accused of “breeding violence.”
It looks like it’s high time for some liberty-minded teachers to put up a few good quotes on the bulletin boards. From Winston Churchill: “If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy respect for the law.” From Benjamin Franklin: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”