Zero Tolerance, Zero Intelligence: School Bans Eight-Year-Old’s Patriotic Hat Due to Use of Tiny Soldiers

David Morales, 8, thought that he had put together a cool hat to honor American troops when his class was asked to make special hats for a meeting with another second-grade class from another school. Officials at Tiogue School in Coventry, Rhode Island, however, quickly banned the hat. The reason? He placed a few small plastic soldiers on the rim and the tiny soldiers had tiny guns . . . and the school has a zero tolerance for guns.


David had to wear a plain baseball cap instead on the visit with the other school.

Superintendent Kenneth R. Di Pietro insists that “the issue for us was, can it be done in a way that didn’t violate the zero-tolerance for weapons? Nothing was being done to limit patriotism, creativity, other than find an alternative to a weapon.” However, the question for most of us is what can be done to have a modicum of common sense and judgment applied in such circumstances.

We have been following the steady stream of ridiculous cases of school officials punishing children for everything from drawing stick figures to finger guns, here.

I have written prior columns on the boys and guns as well as the zero tolerance policies at schools. I am more concerned about teaching our children to accept arbitrary and capricious authority.

For the full story, click here and here.

34 thoughts on “Zero Tolerance, Zero Intelligence: School Bans Eight-Year-Old’s Patriotic Hat Due to Use of Tiny Soldiers

  1. And what exactly would a wound from such a tiny plastic gun look like? A chigger bite? Besides, you can see clearly that one of the toy soldiers is a medic.

    Authoritarian nitwits.

    How about this: a zero tolerance policy for hiring morons to teach children.

  2. How does this school study wars in history? Surely there text books must have pictures of soldiers on the ground during WWII. What about a picture of a battle ship, or the D-Day invasion of Normandy? Surely those pictures would show guns, and therefore should be banned too.

    I should find it surprising that teachers and superintendents are this stupid, but sadly I don’t. Everyone knows that a picture of a weapon (or a toy solider holding an obviously fake weapon) is not the same as an actual weapon. What has happened to critical thinking in our society? I guess stupidity really does know no bounds.

  3. “He placed a few small plastic soldiers on the rim and the tiny soldiers had tiny guns . . . and the school has a zero tolerance for guns.”

    ******************

    I see no “gun” here. Just as a statue of a rooster is not a rooster, a plastic molded model of a microscopic gun is not a gun, shouldn’t be construed as a gun (or anything even resembling a gun) by any reasonable person, and holds no more of the characteristics of a lethal weapon than the scholastically required “sharpened #2 pencil.” I suspect the policy is logically constructed, but its interpreters: not so much.

  4. By the way, somebody should explain to our brother scholars in Rhode Islanders (Islandians?) that the “arms of the state” are as welcome as apple pie in every schools:

    TITLE 42 – State Affairs and Government.
    CHAPTER 42-4 – State Emblems.
    SECTION 42-4-1.
    § 42-4-1 Arms of state. The arms of the state are a golden anchor on a blue field, and the motto thereof is the word “Hope”

  5. Honor the troops but pretend they don’t carry guns … ninnies.

    Superintendent Kenneth R. Di Pietro should be fired for sheer stupidity … surely they have zero-tolerance for stupidity …

  6. Sounds like the school’s application of the rule is based on a starchy, rigid adherence to the written rules, which I guess apply to real weapons, toy weapons, and apparently little toys holding little toy weapons. Wouldn’t it be arbitrary and capricious to NOT enforce the rules as they had been enforced (assuming that the zero-tolerance policy has and will be continued to be enforced this way)? I’m not defending the actions of the school, but I don’t think it’s fair or accurate to characterize the school’s actions in that way.

  7. Maybe I’m confused? Isn’t “zero tolerance policy” obviously, inherently a means for people with responsibility to shrik that responsibility? Am I the only person who interprets “We have a zero-tolerance policy” as meaning “I am an idiot who is not capable of exercising responsibility or judgment”?

  8. TomD.Arch;

    You are exactly right. Zero tolerance is just an admission of ineptitude. I consider this policy in the same league with the “three strikes” policy. It’s much easier to make an unbending rule that applies in all circumstances than for anyone in authority to engage in critical thinking. From educated, experienced judges to eight-year-olds, we’re soon to dwell in a land of robots – entities will no reasoning abilities or rational thought, just machines that follow written instructions regardless of the circumstances.

    Oh, and DiPietro is a moron – Superintendent of Schools is a title obviously far above his abilities.

  9. In the eyes of the beholder.
    Some may say patriotic some may say war mongering, some may say supporting the troops (which troops? ours theirs of somebody else’s or just movie or video game troops?)some may say brain washing is being done at home to glorify killing, and guns.

    I vote with the school on this one, the fewer images of violence and killing or images that are provackative or violence or killing really do not belong in school.

  10. Marne,

    The way to address violence is not to pretend it doesn’t exist. We are a violent species by nature. At one time, it was necessary for survival. It’s part of the evolutionary baggage we carry from the Savannah that cripples us to this day.

    The way to address violence it to teach the very real and concrete consequences of violence.

    When we harm others, we also harm ourselves.

    There is a reason in traditional martial arts training that the most dangerous techniques are not taught to beginning students. Technically speaking, many of them could for killing a person is a frightfully easy thing to do if you know how. They must have the proper exposure and experience to fully realize the consequences of their actions as well as (when properly taught) the wisdom of not simply “how” but more importantly “when” applications of lethal force are required. Even then, it can still be traumatic – most certainly to the victim, but often the perpetrator as well. This is seen everyday in the form of PTSD in troops and others exposed to brutality.

  11. A “zero tolerance policy” on anything is the bureaucratic counterpart to mandatory sentencing statutes. Both operate on the assumption that persons in authority cannot be trusted to make sensible judgments, regardless of their training, education and experience in a particular area. The result is a life sentence for kissing a 13-year old and suspension for a school child with a plastic knife in his lunch box.

  12. TomD.Arch

    ” … “We have a zero-tolerance policy” as meaning “I am an idiot who is not capable of exercising responsibility or judgment”? …”

    and

    Mike Appleton

    ” … A “zero tolerance policy” on anything is the bureaucratic counterpart to mandatory sentencing statutes. Both operate on the assumption that persons in authority cannot be trusted to make sensible judgments, regardless of their training, education and experience in a particular area. …”

    =================================================================

    Zero Tolerance = Zero Common Sense = Zero Justice

  13. Arbitrary and capricious behaviour by authority figures could work a couple of ways.

    Understanding that authorities can be a & c could lead to rebellion which may translate to anti-social behaviour from cheating on tests to building pyramid schemes. Not a good outcome.

    Or it could lead to critical thinking that can distinguish between rules that are arbitrary and those that are necessary for a functioning society.

    I have to admit to being a no-gun-at-all parent and was appalled when every boy in the family was given a toy gun by the grandparents.

    But then, I read an article that said – because France suffered so much in WWI, French parents (mothers) taught their boys for the next 20 years to never use, even in play, anything to do with war. No guns, swords, uniforms, etc. The article surmised that that training was one of the reasons France fell to Germany so early in the conflict of WWII. Also, if true, not a good outcome.

    All in all, I’d say zero tolerance for weapons, even symbols of weapons (and the reason for weapons – violence), is good and it would be arbitrary and capricious to deviate from that (or any other) rule. A toy soldier with a toy gun is a replica of a weapon and, like a picture of a weapon on a T-Shirt, is a symbol of the means for committing violence which the school wishes to discourage. Not only do they not want weapons, they don’t want the glorification of weapons.

    I don’t see this as pretending violence doesn’t exist; it really can’t be ignored in today’s society and an 8 year old can extrapolate from what he/she sees on television and in the movies the consequences of violence.

    This seems to be an effort to mitigate the effects of all the violence that our children are subjected to on a daily basis. They don’t have the luxury of growing up in the slow, quiet, peaceful neighborhoods of yesteryear. This is why they have to teach conflict resolution and anti-bullying behaviour in schools today.

  14. I think a larger point is being lost here: arbitrary enforcement.
    In my experience Zero Tolerance is hardly ever zero tolerance, it’s usually “limited tolerance unless the authority in question is looking for an excuse to punish you.”

  15. Gyges

    Which is why this principal is getting bashed here. He’s practicing zero-tolerance and everyone seems to think he should practice arbitrary enforcement.

  16. No.

    He should practice sensible enforcement. And if a policy or law is not capable of sensible enforcement it is of minimal value and/or destructive in its own right.

  17. Buckeye,

    There is a difference between an arbitrary enforcement of a policy and a policy that allows for discretion.

  18. Apparently this school’s rules are zero tolerance for weapons and drugs including images of weapons and of drugs. You may not consider that sensible, but that’s the school’s policy.

    Zero-tolerance is the definition of non-discretionary enforcement. Why bash the pricipal for enforcing the school’s rules just because you don’t think they are sensible? Lt. Gen. Reginald Centracchio is already undermining the school’s policy/authority and the ACLU is on board, also.

    If the community thinks the rules are not sensible, they can ask the school board to change them. The ACLU has already sent a letter asking the school to change their policy stating it is a constitutional violation of the boy’s freedom of speech. The schoolboard can either change the rules or go to court. Which, do you think, will they do? It will be interesting to see.

  19. I am not a gun nut; but, agree that this is ridiculous. Just wanted to share how a high school history teacher of mine would describe this kind of ridiculousness. It is the epitome of assininity.

  20. Buckeye,

    The policy is what’s being criticized.

    See: “Zero Tolerance Zero intelligence”

    See: “Zero Tolerance = Zero Common Sense = Zero Justice”

    See: “A “zero tolerance policy” on anything is the bureaucratic counterpart to mandatory sentencing statutes. ”

    See: “And if a policy or law is not capable of sensible enforcement it is of minimal value and/or destructive in its own right.”

    See: “Zero tolerance is just an admission of ineptitude”

    I agree with those statements. In addition to agreeing with that sentiment, it’s been my experience that zero tolerance policies also offer great cover for people seeking an excuse to punish an individual.

  21. My mistake. I understood it was the principal as well as the principle that was being criticized. I’ll have to look closer next time.

    Maybe Mr. Di Pietro will next OK an 8 year old girl with a Nobama T-Shirt with a “not” sign superimposed on an Obama Joker’s chest, since neither weapons nor drugs are being depicted, and redeem himself.

  22. Here is the actual policy from the Student Handbook for the Coventry School District:

    “Drugs, Weapons, Inappropriate Materials: For the safety of all students and faculty and based on state regulations, students may not bring to school drugs or weapons of any kind. Students who display behaviors that represent danger to other students, regardless of the fact that a weapon may be a toy or utensil or that a drug or illegal substance may be later identified as non-threatening, will be addressed through disciplinary action up to and including suspension. Every student deserves to learn in a safe and threat-free environment.” [emphasis mine]

    and

    “Examples of classroom/school rules may include:
    (…)
    9. Weapons or items that could be used as weapons (including toys) are not allowed in school (zero tolerance and is often an offense that requires out-of-school suspension)
    (…).”

    So we can see the policy is not artfully drafted, but there is still room for discretion. The first full statement of the policy provides “For the safety of all students and faculty and based on state regulations, students may not bring to school drugs or weapons of any kind. Students who display behaviors that represent danger to other student…,,” stating the policy is premised on safety and must involve behavior constituting a “danger” to other persons on the premises to be triggered. One of the specified examples of displaying “dangerous” behavior is bringing weapons to school. The following dependent clause carries the policy further stating ” regardless of the fact that a weapon may be a toy or utensil or that a drug or illegal substance may be later identified as non-threatening,…” The second clause does not, however, change the requirement that the object in question must pose, at least initially, a reasonable apprehension of danger. That the object may later be deemed harmless is apparently irrelevant. This policy is obviously aimed at “look alike” guns that could be used to intimidate students and teachers.

    Take my example of the sharpened #2 lead pencil (which, incidentally, G. Gordon Liddy wrote in his autobiography “Will” was, in fact, a lethal weapon), and distinguish that obviously “dangerous” utensil from the items prohibited by the policy. You can’t, of course, and the reason kids are permitted to still bring those items is that a certain discretion has been overlain this poorly written policy to prevent absurd results. Think of the even more lethal pencil sharpener which contains a sharpened metal blade (Oh, the horror).

    The fault lies both with the drafters of the policy; those who attempt to enforce it vagaries using no common sense; and the Board itself which apparently relied on an amateur to write a policy capable of subjecting it to so much embarrassment, and its charges to so much harm.

  23. mespo727272

    ” … The fault lies both with the drafters of the policy; those who attempt to enforce it vagaries using no common sense; and the Board itself which apparently relied on an amateur to write a policy capable of subjecting it to so much embarrassment, and its charges to so much harm.”

    ================================================================

    “And that, my friends,” she said, dusting off her hands, “is that!”:)

  24. Old policy according to De Pietro (original link).

    [Di Pietro said the district does not allow images of weapons or drugs on clothing. For example, it would not allow a student to wear a shirt with a picture of a marijuana leaf on it.]

    New policy according to De Pietro(new link).

    [The superintendent of a Rhode Island school district that banned a second-grader from wearing a hat with toy soldiers and tiny guns on it says he’ll work to change the policy to allow such apparel.

    Ken Di Pietro said in an e-mail Saturday to The Associated Press that the no-weapons policy shouldn’t limit student expression, especially when the weapons relate to a profession, such as the military or police. Di Pietro said the current policy obscures the school’s work to promote patriotism.]

    Actual policy:

    School handbook: “T-shirts and/or jackets which display objectionable graphics or profanity will not be allowed.” Not exactly as Mr. Di Pietro claimed – and discretionary, indeed.

    So everyone’s arguments that the authority (Mr. Di Pietro)was being arbitrary were correct. Now, at last we are at the PROOF of those arguments. And maybe even more able to diss zero-tolerance policies in general.

    Now, wasn’t that fun? I enjoyed it.

  25. the next time this principal and or superintendents are out with friends or family taking in a movie or shopping at the mall maybe just maybe it will hit them and realize what country they are living in where they do not have to worry about some insane person with a bomb runs in to the movie complex or mall and blows there entire family to kingdom come see living in the good o U.S. OF A. we do not have to constily look over our shoulder and wonder if that guy over there is a crazed suicide bomber. EVERYTIME I RUN INTO A SERVICE MAN OR WOMAN I THANK THEM FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART BECAUSE YOU SEE IM THE FATHER OF A FALLEN SOLIDER IN OUR CURRENT WAR WITH IRAQ HE GAVE HIS LIFE SO PEOPLE DO NOT HAVE TO LOOK OVER THERE SHOULDER AND WORRY. NOW WITH THIS SCHOOL ISUE THE KID HAS IT RIGHT THE SO CALLED EDUCATORS ARE WRONG I WONDER IF ANY OF THOSE SCHOOL ELECTED OFFICALS HAVE ANY KIDS FIGHTING THIS WAR PROBALY NOT PROBALY SHIPED THEM TO CANADA. HA HA

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