A Tale of 2 Cities and Their School Systems

There is a battle going on, between differing policies and philosophies on how to deal with school violence in the wake of the past instances of school violence which have left several kids killed or wounded.  Zero tolerance rules have become the  norm around the country but at the same time a movement has sprung up to limit, bar or remove disciplinary action to black kids.  The statistics say that black children face a higher percentage of disciplinary action than any other race or ethnicity, which has been blamed for the higher instance of criminality, poorer scholastic performance, continued poverty,  teenage pregnancy, and gang participation.

As a parent I understand the need and urge to do anything possible to protect our children but are these policies the way to go some of the most notable examples from Wikipedia include:

  • Sandusky, Ohio high school student was suspended for 90 days and flunked, after school authorities found a broken pocketknife on him during a drug search in September 1999. He had used the knife to clean his golfing cleats.
  • After bringing a Cub Scouts dinner knife to school to eat his lunch, a six-year-old boy was ordered by Christina School District to attend an alternative school for students with behavioral problems for nine weeks. After a media uproar, the school board voted unanimously to reduce punishments for kindergartners and first-graders who take weapons to school to a 3-5 day mandatory suspension, retaining the original definition of “weapons”
  • A third-grade girl, also in the Christina School District, was expelled for a year because her grandmother sent a birthday cake, and a knife for cutting the cake, to school. The teacher used the knife to cut the cake, and then reported the girl to the authorities as having a dangerous weapon. The expulsion was overturned and led to a state law that gave districts the ability to, “on a case-by-case basis, modify the terms of the expulsion.”
  • Other cases in the Christina School District include a straight-A student who was ordered to attend “reform school” after a classmate dropped a pocket knife in his lap, and in 2007, when a girl was expelled for using a utility knife to cut paper for a project.
  • Earlier in 2009, an Eagle scout was suspended for three weeks for having an emergency supply kit in his car, that included a pocket knife.
  • A kindergartner was suspended in March 2010 for making a finger gun.
  • A kindergartner was suspended for 10 days in January, 2013 for referring to “shooting” a friend with a Hello Kitty bubble making gun. The suspension was reduced to two days after the parent met with school officials.
  • A second grader was suspended in March 2013 for biting a Pop-Tart into the shape of a mountain, which school officials mistook for a gun.

All of the above case involved a weapon, or what some could considered a weapon of some sort but they are reported cases of suspensions and expulsions for having cough drops, Midol, ibuprofen and Tylenol all over the counter drugs that treat headaches or cramps.  These policies are not new they been around since the 90’s and though there is no empirical evidence of their effectiveness they are here to stay but they were confined to school and their grounds.

Among the biggest criticism of Zero tolerance policies is that It’s not about safety, it’s about control. Last week 3 students in the Virginia Beach City Public School System were given long-term suspensions for the rest of the school year, a decision which was upheld by the School Board but will revisit in January.  What was the crime they committed they were playing with AirSoft guns in their front yard while waiting for the Bus to school which was located about 70 yards or 3/4 of a Football field away.  How was the school informed of the kids “transgressions”? There were 2 incidents, the first one the next door neighbor, whose son was participating, called 911 to report that the kids were playing with the AirSoft guns.  She knew they were not real guns and told the 911 dispatcher but was uncomfortable with the boys target shooting “Zombies” in the neighbors yards.  The kids were shooting at a target on a tree with a net behind it to catch the plastic BB’s that were propelled by the spring-loaded AirSoft guns.

It was an incident 3 days later that got the boys in trouble, they were playing an AirSoft war in the yard, the 3 that got suspended and 3 other kids, the next door neighbor and 2 other kids.  During the war,  a motorist observed one of the kids chasing the other and call 911.  The police then called the school and even though the actions happened in a private property and not on school grounds or the bus stop the school decided suspending the 3 kids with the guns but not the other 3 kids that were playing  that day.   Aside from the sensibilities of the neighbor and the passing motorist, no one was hurt but it made no difference to the school, which is asserting that its actions are being done with protecting the children, which includes the bus stop or in this case the way to the bus stop. You can read the local station’s story for more details, Here:

What happened to the time when the parents would discipline our children? Have we evolved to the point that schools are ipso parentis? But as we know all Zero Tolerance policies are not equal.  The Miami-Dade School system also has a Zero Tolerance policy, you can read it here; their disciplinary policy has added tiers by which they can manipulate the policy, while still claiming to follow a Zero Tolerance policy.  The problem in their system is that too many of students are running foul of the Zero Tolerance rules, particularly black males.  As has been noted in past posts, the Miami-Dade  County Schools through their School Police (MDSP-D) manipulated data, falsified incident reports to minimize the incidence of crime referrals, suspensions and expulsions of black males in their system.

Trayvon Martin was a beneficiary of MDSP-D’s lack of observance to their Zero Tolerance policy, on one report for instance, Mr. Martin was caught with a screwdriver (a concealed  weapon), drug paraphernalia, marijuana and stolen property.  According to school policy any of these could warrant and expulsion but to avoid that the screwdriver was labelled a burglary tool, the drugs, became residue, the stolen jewelry was now found property and under the $300 limit, which would have upped it to a felony charge.  Had a search of his cell phone been conducted hundreds pictures of Mr. Martin sexting, Mr. Martin in possession of a live firearm, as well as texts about buying and selling them, more drugs would have been discovered, of course they would have to decipher the files systems since Mr. Martin kept this in secret files.

In Virginia Beach, 3 teens one White, one Black and one Black Hispanic are suspended for the entire school year for playing with spring-loaded plastic guns in their yard, in Miami Gardens the school police is committing fraud to prevent another teen from being expelled because he is Black and too many were, so they needed to lower the stats.

On September 17th, the latest version of GTA 5 (Grand Theft Auto) was released to the public within 24 hours it had 1 Billion dollars in sales.  The video game it is said to be the pulse of popular culture, in it one of the activities that the 3 characters can do besides the usual shooting, racing and fighting, is watch tv, the games own TV channel.  Watching the channel there is a cartoon episode of the game’s super Hero called Impotent Rage, warning for language:

Like the super Hero, his attempts to correct what he thinks is wrong, usually cause more harm than good, much like Zero Tolerance rules, that are applied or not arbitrarily.  But also like the super hero, when does issues arise, instead of fixing them, most resort to empty gestures, while ignoring the issue altogether.  The MDSP-D got awards from the NAACP for its actions, Trayvon Martin is getting honored and has a Foundation in his name, so we can forget trying to find out what cause the issue and how to solve the problems.  We can penalize kids playing with toy guns, while ignoring those that play with real ones, we can’t appear racist.  If all else fails send in a donation to the Trayvon Martin Foundation and your conscience  will clear.