Ordinary tools, such as pliers, screwdrivers and wrenches, are “weapons” and so a Chicago school was correct to punish a teacher who brought them to class for a visual aid, according to a new court decision.
The ruling from a federal court in Illinois technically dismissed a lawsuit brought on behalf of teacher Douglas Bartlett. He had been suspended without pay for four days “on the grounds that his use of the tools as visual aids endangered his students, despite the fact that all potentially hazardous items were kept out of the students’ reach.”
WND reported a year ago when the case was filed – and the school’s actions were called political correctness run amok.
At the time, John Whitehead, of the Rutherford Institute, which brought the case on behalf of Bartlett, said, “Education truly suffers when school administrators exhibit such poor judgment and common sense, especially when it comes to their zealous misapplication of misguided zero tolerance policies. However, what makes this case stand out from the rest is that this latest victim of zero tolerance policies run amok happens to be a veteran school teacher.”
Bartlett had 17 years of experience in the classroom. While teaching a second grade class, the curriculum required a “tool discussion.”
During the lesson, employing a common technique by educators, Bartlett used a visual aid which included several garden-variety tools that included wrenches, pliers and screwdrivers. These tools are found in virtually every home and toolbox in America.
Along with the other tools, Bartlett displayed a box cutter and pocket knife and showed the students the proper use of these tools. When not in use, the tools were kept in a toolbox on a high shelf, which required the use of a chair for even an adult to reach.
But an “observer” complained and Bartlett was charged by the school district with “possessing, carrying, storing, or using a weapon” and “negligently supervising children, inattention to duty and repeated vagrant acts.”
Now, U.S. District Judge Robert Dow Jr. has dismissed a complaint filed on Bartlett’s behalf. He said officials at Washington Irving Elementary School acted correctly in defining the tools as “weapons.”
“In an age where public schools face an unprecedented number of real challenges in maintaining student discipline, and addressing threats of real violence, surely no one benefits from trumped up charges where no actual ‘weapons’ violation has occurred and no threat is posed to any member of the school community,” Whitehead said.
“This school district’s gross overreaction to a simple teaching demonstration on basic tools such as wrenches and pliers underscores exactly what is wrong with our nation’s schools.”
Whitehead told WND when the case was filed while zero tolerance policies have been around for years, there is a new movement afoot to take it to a new level where people are being taught to be afraid of anything that remotely resembles a weapon.
“I talk to people today who tell me they cannot even look at a picture of a gun because it is too frightening,” Whitehead explained. “I always tell him to walk down the street and look at a police officer who has several weapons on his belt. As a society we are going to have to live with guns and things that could potentially be used as weapons. If you’re using it safely as Bartlett did then what does it accomplish to make this an issue unless it is to put the fear of the state in somebody.”
WND also has reported that a West Virginia student was arrested, jailed and suspended after he refused to remove an NRA T-shirt he wore to school. The arrest occurred after Jared Marcum, an eighth-grade student, got into an argument with a teacher who objected to the image of a gun on the shirt.
Other students have been punished for drawing pictures of a gun or wearing a picture of a gun, but zero tolerance policies often go even farther.
“We had a case where a Florida girl, who was an honor student was expelled for year and three months after she passed her nail clippers to another student because it has a little fingernail pick in it.”
The Chicago student handbook defines a weapon as “any object that is commonly used to inflict bodily harm… even though its normal use is not as a weapon.”
The brief says that since it is a student handbook, Bartlett reasonably assumed that the definition did not apply to teachers who were using household tools as part of their instructional material.
“What we’re seeing in the schools today with all of these things is the belief that students are considered threats for doing anything that is slightly out of the ordinary,” Whitehead warned. “What these policies are doing is teaching kids and teachers to be very compliant and conditioning them to live in a police state.“
He also warns there could be unintentional consequences from sending the message to young children that common household items such as screwdrivers and pliers are now considered weapons. For instance, what would happen if a child were to call the police and inform them their parents have a large amount of weapons in their homes, referencing their father’s toolbox.
“The SWAT team would be there in a heartbeat with guns drawn. That has the potential to be a deadly situation very quickly,” he said.