When 9-year-old Jonathan Cross dressed up in his duck-hunting outfit for his school’s Camouflage Day this week, he never dreamed his love for the sport would backfire on him.
Covered from head to toe in his gear, the fourth-grader was “a very happy camper,” according to his mother, excited to show off his new hunting boots, hat, mesh face mask, shirt, bib, pants and boots.
But there was something in his pocket he had forgotten about – a shotgun shell left over from an outing with his father and brothers last weekend.
His discovery of the item while on campus has left the straight-A student stunned with a five-day suspension, his teachers in tears, and his parents perplexed over the latest case of “zero tolerance” in the government school system.
“They shouldn’t have had Camouflage Day,” said Kay Cross, Jonathan’s mother. “It’s militaristic; it has connotations of violence. He just happened to have a shell in his pocket.”
The incident unfolded at the Fred A. Anderson Elementary School, located in the rural town of Bayboro on North Carolina’s eastern side.
Fred A. Anderson Elementary School in Bayboro, N.C. sponsored ‘Camouflage Day’
The school, like many others across America, takes part in “Spirit Week,” featuring different themes each day designed to motivate children. One day is Professional Dress Day, where students dress themselves in the attire of working adults. Another one is Mismatch Day, where children can suit themselves in colors and items that clash. Tuesday was Camouflage Day.
Jonathan had been dropped off by his mother and was waiting with other early arrivers in the lunchroom before being dispatched to class. It was in the lunchroom that he felt something in his pocket. When he took it out to see what it was, he realized it was a shotgun shell, as did a teacher who caught a glimpse.
The boy was brought to the principal’s office, and because of the school’s zero-tolerance policy for weapons and explosive devices, officials say they had no choice but to suspend him for five days, even if there was no intent to use the device.
“A shotgun shell is considered an explosive,” said Cathy Dunbar, the school’s assistant principal. “We do have some discretion for the number of days [for suspension]. We kind of go with five. … It’s not like we really wanted to come down hard on him. We didn’t.”
Dunbar says the school has had Camouflage Day for years, and it’s the event in which the greatest number of students actively participate, as that part of North Carolina is filled with hunting enthusiasts.
“It never crossed our minds,” she told WorldNetDaily. “We didn’t think kids would have something in their pockets. [Camouflage Day] is really a very innocent thing.”
Mrs. Cross is not laying entire blame on school officials, whom she says are truly remorseful, telling her Camouflage Day would not take place in the future. She says she should have checked her son’s pockets, but what’s upsetting to her and many American parents is the rigidness of zero-tolerance policies designed to keep the classroom safe.
“Zero tolerance comes from a good place,” says Cross, “but it’s black and white; there is no gray. There’s a common-sense point of view that gets overlooked with this black-and-white law. There’s no blurring of the edges, no extenuating circumstances.”
That point is echoed by the Rutherford Institute, a Virginia-based civil-liberties and human-rights organization that has dealt with many similar cases in the legal system.
|President of the Rutherford Institute John Whitehead says zero-tolerance policies are ‘spreading like a disease.’|
“[Zero tolerance] teaches kids a bad lesson,” says institute president John Whitehead. “Make the slightest mistake and the state authority is gonna come down on you like gangbusters. No hearing, no appeal. … What’s the rationale for expelling a student for having a Certs mint or gargling with Scope after lunch? These are actual cases.”
The institute has handled high-profile incidents, like that of Virginia eighth-grader Ben Ratner who prevented a suicidal friend from slitting her wrists by taking away her knife, only to face automatic suspension for possessing a weapon in his locker.
The Loudoun County school district defended its action, stating the zero-tolerance policy was not really the issue, since it suspended Ratner for the rest of the semester, not the minimum one-year suspension as required by district policy.
A federal appeals court upheld the expulsion, stating the facts didn’t demonstrate that “the school’s policy in this case failed to comport with the United States Constitution.” The Supreme Court subsequently refused to consider if Ratner’s constitutional rights had been violated, thus affirming the discipline by local officials.
As WorldNetDaily previously reported, students have also been suspended for playing “cops and robbers” during recess, drawing a picture of a Confederate flag, using nail clippers and stating the intent to launch spitballs.
The list of events gaining national attention in recent years also includes:
- A National Merit Scholar prevented from attending her own high-school graduation last year in Fort Myers, Fla., because a table knife with a rounded tip was found on the floorboard of her car in the parking lot;
- An 11-year-old fifth-grader permanently banned from an elementary school in Oldsmar, Fla., for drawing pictures of a gun;
- A 12-year-old honor student in Mount Airy, Md., barred from extracurricular activities when she violated drug policy by sharing her inhaler with a fellow student having an asthma attack on the school bus;
- A 9-year-old handing out Certs mints in Manassas, Va., and two students taking them suspended for ten days for drug-policy violations;
- And in Deer Lakes, Pa., a 5-year-old boy suspended for dressing as a firefighter for his school’s Halloween party. Part of his costume was a plastic ax.
Harsh zero-tolerance policies have been adopted by educators across the U.S. in the wake of the Gun Free Schools Act of 1994, in which Congress mandated automatic expulsions for students carrying firearms on campus. Despite its overturn by the Supreme Court the following year, local districts have since approved additional penalties for alcohol, drugs, threatening behavior and possession of items which can be construed as weapons.
In June 2000, the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University released a report on the issue, stating a great deal of evidence supports the conclusion “that children are being unfairly suspended and arbitrarily kicked out of school for incidents that could have been very easily handled using alternative methods.”
“As a result, everyday zero-tolerance policies force children to be suspended or expelled for sharing Midol, asthma medication (during an emergency), cough drops, and for bringing toy guns, nail clippers and scissors to school. Even the common schoolyard scuffle has become a target, regardless of severity and circumstances,” the report said.
Despite the publicity surrounding recent cases, Whitehead says the situation for students is not getting any better.
“[The districts] are not listening,” he says. “It’s the lockdown of America. The schools are locking down, the courts are locking down. It doesn’t bode well for freedom.”
Back in Oriental, N.C., Jonathan Cross has an unexpected 11-day break, as his suspension will merge into next week’s Thanksgiving holiday.
His mother personally met with school officials and has no intention of pursuing any kind of legal action, as administrators were simply enforcing Pamlico County policy and have now relegated Camouflage Day to a thing of the past.
“I don’t have a bent against the school,” she said. “I’m still pissed, but I’m satisfied.”
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