We have another towering success of the “zero tolerance” rules applied blindly in our schools. Ohio school officials have finally captured and suspended Nathan Entingh, 10, after he pulled a finger gun out at school. That’s right, another finger gun suspension. While these cases have been widely denounced as insane, school officials remain undeterred and continue to hammer children with nonsensical actions. To complete this utter insanity, the family then received a letter informing them that Nathan had been found with a “level 2 look alike firearm.”
Nathan is a student at the Devonshire Alternative Elementary School. This action not only involved not only a teacher who reported it. The punishment was then imposed by Devonshire Principal Patricia Price.
We have previously followed the suspensions and discipline of students under zero tolerance policies that are used by teachers to justify zero judgment or responsibility. I have long criticized zero tolerance policies that have led to suspensions and arrests of children (here and here and here and here). Here is a prior column on the subject (and here).Children have been suspended or expelled for drawing stick figures or wearing military hats or bringing Legos shaped like guns or even having Danish in the shape of a gun. Despite the public outcry over the completely irrational and abusive application of zero tolerance rules, administrators and teachers continue to apply them blindly. If you do not have to exercise judgment, you can never been blamed for any failure. Conversely, even when the public outcry results in a reversals, teachers and administrators never seem punished with the same vigor for showing no judgment or logic in punishing a child.
Price refused to answer press inquiries but the Columbus City Schools spokesman Jeff Warner said that the school stood by the action taken against Nathan, noting that “We’ve had a problem at this school. The boys have gone around fake shooting and making paper guns at class. It’s inappropriate. She has sent notes to parents for the past three weeks alerting them of the problem.” However, the parents say that they never received such a notice.
If there is unruly behavior in class, how about denying recess or sending a note to the parents? He is 10 years old and in the fifth grade. What is really striking is how administrators are not only portraying arbitrary action as a “rule” but dressing it up with this faux classification system of “level 2 Look Alike Firearms.
The lunacy shown by teachers and administrators has forced legislators to consider a formal law to curtail the zero tolerance policy. The officials cite a 1998 law that required schools to “adopt a policy of zero tolerance for violent, disruptive, or inappropriate behavior, including excessive truancy.” It is the type of ill-considered, poorly drafted law that should be unnecessary. Schools were already allowed to take action against such disruptions and could be held accountable for poor performance at individual schools. However, when the law passed, teachers and administrators felt empowered to stop making any logical decisions or, perish the thought, exercise professional judgment.
Nothing in the 1998 law requires blind, senseless actions. That was an interpretation placed on the law by teachers and administrators who are not being held accountable for such absurd applications. They are succeeding in teaching children that they must yield to arbitrary and capricious authority. The children are shaped in an environmental of petty authoritarianism, as discussed in this past column.