The Creeping Terror

creeping terrorA school in New Jersey has narrowly avoided disaster.  Unbeknownst to the administrators, terror lurked in the hallways, stalked the children as they went about their daily duties.  Slowly, quietly, it crept, moving from the playground in the morning, to the coat hooks at the back of the room where children tended to their lessons, to the lunchroom where children gathered to eat, until it could hide no longer.  At the precise moment, it entered the child’s mind, forcing the boy to reach into the bag where it lay, and withdraw it.

Terror ensued.  Quietly, of course, and without fanfare, but terror, nonetheless.

Fortunately, a teacher swooped in at the last minute and saved the entire student body from certain disaster.  A massacre had been narrowly avoided, a hardened criminal thwarted once more.  The weapon has been secured, the perp shamed, banished from the school grounds.

And what WAS the dastardly plot?  What heinous crime was narrowly escaped?

A first-grader tried to eat his lunch.  With a fork, a knife and a spoon, all connected together in a handy little case.

Welcome to the Christina School District, in Newark, New Jersey, where Zero Tolerance reigns supreme.

Zachary Christie, 6, has recently joined the Cub Scouts, and one of the cool things about Cub Scouts is that you get a taste of camping.  And in order to go camping, you must have gadgets.  One of those gadgets that Zachary has is a “multi-tool”, a fork, knife, spoon, and can opener nestled in a pocket-knife style casing.  (similar to this, but the knife, I believe, is not as sharp.  And the case is red, not brown.)

And now this Cub Scout is suspended from school for 45 days, given the choice between being home-schooled and attending reform school during that time.  For wanting to eat his lunch with a metal knife and fork.

Why?  Because the school’s Zero Tolerance Policy says so.

This is the same Zero Tolerance Policy that previously ordered that another young girl (3rd grade) be suspended for bringing a plastic serrated knife to school so she could cut her birthday cake.  A teacher used the knife to cut and serve the cake, and then turned the knife over to the administration, who then suspended the student.

Because the Zero Tolerance Policy says so.

According to that policy, knives are banned regardless of intent.

Correct me if I’m wrong here, but isn’t the point of school to LEARN stuff?  To learn how to apply rules to situations?  To learn about how to think… oh, wait.  This is modern education.  We don’t teach kids how to think.  We teach them to be reactive, because that’s what we’ve become.  Reactive.

Someone might get hurt, so we must ban even the most innocuous of utensils.  There is a school near me that does not provide utensils, except for plastic spoons, to students for eating their lunches.  And the students are not allowed to bring their own utensils from home.  Why?  Because a fork or a knife might be a weapon.  Mind you, this is a high school.  That has a shop.  With saws in it.  And drills.  And even a nail gun. And an art room where scissors are kept.  And even a kitchen where sharp knives reside.  But the students cannot be trusted with a plastic fork, because, well, they might actually use it to stab something.  Like that mystery-meat trying to crawl off of their plates.

All sarcasm aside, what really got me in this story was this quote, from the New York Times:

“But, based on the code of conduct for the Christina School District, where Zachary is a first grader, school officials had no choice.”

The school officials had no choice.  Really?  The “school officials” are the ones who SET THE POLICY.  They absolutely have a choice.  They have a responsibility to make a choice.  They have a responsibility to examine every situation, and apply the rules accordingly.  But to say that they “have no choice” is to take the lazy way out.  To abdicate all responsibility, hide behind a stupid rule, and teach their students that common sense truly is dead.

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22 Responses to The Creeping Terror

  1. Sue says:

    I’m glad someone wrote a post about this b/c it’s just crazy! Zero tolerance policy for weapons is great in theory, but you know what? ANYTHING can be used as a weapon, ANYTHING. So, are they going to take pencils away or the forks to eat with at lunch or the chairs the kids sit on?! Because if a child’s intent is to harm someone they are going to do it with whatever is available and I’m sorry but intent should be a consideration in kids this little. Was it because of the knife attached that made it a weapon? Another story of common sense being thrown out the window.

    • Laura says:

      They DID take away the forks and knives at one of our local high schools. The girl down the street actually risked suspension when she brought a PLASTIC fork so she could eat her lunch!!

  2. megan says:

    Oh man. You know, it’s crap like this that makes me want to homeschool my as-of-yet unborn children. Unfortunately, I know I won’t have the patience to do it and will look forward to getting them out of the house for a few hours. But I digress. All I know is that if this continues, the next generation is going to be a generation of weenies that is afraid of sharp corners and anything that isn’t finger food. Heavy sigh.

  3. SKL says:

    The whole zero tolerance thing really confuses me. I mean, when is this applied to adults, who can actually be expected to know the rules and understnand them? The only thing that comes to mind is the DUI thing – a couple decades ago, the states legislated minimum jail time for the 1st offense, 2nd, etc. – and you can see how that’s been implemented (not!). So who came up with the brilliant idea that it would make sense in schools, particularly elementary schools, where half of the students can’t fairly be held accountable for even understanding the rules?

    I assume that they do “zero tolerance” so they don’t have to deal with arguments, begging, parent intervention, appeals, etc., every time they want to issue a detention. We could get into why that’s an issue, but regardless, they should always have had an escape valve. Teachers and principals ought to be able to think that far, if we’re entrusting our kids’ brains to them. I know, I’m asking way too much.

    So, my thought is, zero tolerance should mean that the child must 100% of the time be sent to the principal / have parents contacted or whatever, maybe even a mandatory report on the discipline chosen by the principal. But no way should a serious penalty be decided before the “crime” is even committed.

    As a lawyer, one of the things I learned in law school was that in order to be guilty of a crime, you have to not only have done a bad act (actus rea), but have had bad intent (mens rea). You literally can’t convict a person of a crime without proving intent. But apparently that doesn’t apply to 6-year-old cub scouts. (I read that this little boy was quite the upstanding citizen before this scandalous act. Poor kid is going to be so confused.)

    I agree with Laura – the opportunity to actually learn how to think, to reason, ought to be presented in school. The more difficult the issue, the more beneficial it is to let kids see an intelligent thought process take place. But with these idiotic “zero tolerance” incidents, we teach kids that the adults they view as intelligent do not engage in reasoning. I fear this trend a lot more than I fear cub scout knives in the lunchroom.

    Oh, and as far as trying to actually raise our kids culturally – isn’t it sad that even if we teach them to be human beings outside of school, they are necessarily reduced to caged primates while on school grounds? Oh, how I hated that about school – and that was in the day when they actually gave us metal knives to use at lunchtime. I don’t even know how I’ll explain the school environment to my daughters.

  4. mssc54 says:

    He was reinstated today and the School District voted to change the policy.

    However, that knife does have a sharpe blade and if an older kid wanted to bully the little first grader, take away his knife and cause mischiff he could have don so easily.

    • Laura says:

      Then THAT kid should be busted for bullying, thievery, and probably a few other infractions, all of which which are already banned in school.

      I do not like these “just in case” rules. They take us down a very scary road.

    • Joy says:

      Anything can be made into a weapon Mssc. What about the stuff in shop class or the stuff in art class or even the stuff in music or gym class? How can you punish a child for what “may” happen? So this child gets kicked out of school because a bully “may” steal his eating utensil and hurt someone with it? NO!!! This isn’t right.

      • mssc54 says:

        C’mon Joy, let’s stick with grammer school. As you know grammer school can have 5 year olds and (if they fail) some really not so sharp 12 year olds.

        You don’t have to make a knife into a weapon. It already IS a weapon.

        I think the administration over reacted in this specific instance. And I am glad to see news reports that indicate that they are revisiting their ‘Zero Tollerance” policy.

        However, if some older kid was to see this kid’s knife and take a liking to it… so much so that he would take it away from the 6 year old there COULD be dire results.

        To repeat, I think the school administration over reacted to something that MAY happen. They should have confiscated the knife, “Johnny, that sure is a nice looking tool you have there. I’ll bet you didn’t know that students are not allowed to bring those to school, did you? How about if I take it and call your mom to come and pick it up for you?” That would have been the ideal way to handle it.

  5. Joy says:

    Stuff like this just amazes me. I don’t believe in any way of this zero tolerance stuff or three strike rules. I believe every situation is different. I think these kind of policies just make it easier for the administrators to just sit in their cushy chairs and not make any “important” decisions. It really is sad that you can’t even send eating utensils with your kids to eat lunch. I used to send them with my boys all the time. What is this world coming to???

    I’ve read of other stories like this and it just makes me shake my head. Most kids this age don’t have any bad “intent” and this is such a judgment call. If, and I say IF this kid had this thing out at any other time than lunch, then I could see taking it away and giving it back to him after school but that’s the case with anything that’s causing a disruption during class time but this punishment was way beyond anything even resembling fairness. He’s 6 for Pete’s sake!!!

    I agree with Sue also and that anything can be made into a weapon. You can hurt someone with almost anything and just because there was a knife on this set doesn’t mean this child or any other child is going to kill or hurt someone with it. It’s the adults who think this way and not the children. Shame on the adults who made these “rules.”

  6. Gary says:

    I’m kinda on the fence about this one so to speak. We as a society like to talk circles around ourselves. What I mean is this……

    Had this first grader taken the knife or even the fork and stabbed the kid sitting next to him in the neck because his older pothead brother dared him to, there would have been HELL to pay. Students, parents, teachers and anyone else reading about the incident would have asked “How could something like this happen” when the school has strict zero tolerance rules. HOW and WHY would something like this happen?

    Now I understand that this DIDN’T happen but let’s be real. IF it DID happen, that’s what everyone would be saying.

    *just sayin*

    • Just a Mom says:

      Gary, my car is capable of going what 110 miles an hour. Why do they make a car capable of going that fast? I could break the law by speeding. I guess they should only make cars that go 55 mph.

      *just sayin*

      • Gary says:

        If you are 6 years old and driving to school then yes, that car should be limited to 55 mph. You are comparing apples to oranges here Heather.

        You can HONESTLY tell me that if your daughter was hurt at school by this kid with his banned knife, you wouldn’t be just a little pissed because there are no tolerance rules against such things. You wouldn’t question the principal or school board as to how this could have happened when there are no tolerance policies that are to guard agains things like this?

        • Just a Mom says:

          Even with a Zero Tolerence law in place if someone wants to do someone harm they are going to do it no matter what. It seems the only people who get in trouble by this law are the people that have no intent on doing harm.

  7. Just a Mom says:

    OK are hands going to be banned? I mean I could ball my hand up into a fist and knock the crap out of someone! I guess I better just leave my hands at home.
    This was just stupid. We have had other stupid things happen at my daughter’s high school as well. One kid got suspended because he borrowed his dad’s truck for the day. His dad owns a landscaping company and he had a large knife in the truck bed tool kit that is used to wack weeds down. Well his truck was “randomly” searched that day. The kid didn’t even know it was in the truck yet he had to go to the alternative school for 6 weeks because of it.
    Every situation is different.

  8. Laura says:

    These “what if” arguments are what get Zero Tolerance rules started. We can play “what if” all day long, but the honest truth is, a Cub Scout carrying a knife-fork-spoon TOOL is just that: a Cub Scout, using a tool.

    Common Sense dictates that machetes are banned. So are firearms of any kind. And butcher knives. When those are brought to school, chances are, there is intent to harm involved.

    But in this case, and the case of the third grader with the serrated plastic knife… these are UTENSILS. Do you teach your children how to use utensils? That forks and knives are to be used to cut and serve food only? I’ll bet you do. Why then, should they be allowed to use those utensils at home and in public (at restaurants), but not in school? Why is a butter knife, or even this camping tool, a deadly weapon just because it is now in a school cafeteria?

    We can play “what if” for the rest of the day… but if you’re going to play that game, then you’ll have to ban EVERYTHING, and tie the children to their seats, forbid them to move. Because everything – pens, pencils, a paperclip shot with a rubber band, even a fist – can be a deadly weapon, when used correctly.

    • Joy says:

      I second what Laura said.

      • Gary says:

        I agree with you as well Laura. My only point was that there has to be a line drawn in the sand somewhere.

        I encourage my children to pray at home also but geesh, if they ever did it at school. That’s a whole other can of worms though.

        I just think there has to be a line in the sand drawn somewhere and if there are rules about bringing something like that to school then the rule was broken and there should be a punishment for it.

    • mssc54 says:

      This was NOT a plastic cerated eating utinsil. Scroll down the page of this link and you can clearly see the child holding his knife with the 3 inch steel (sharp) blade.

      Yes, of course, just about anything can be used as a tool. However, the sharp blade of a steel knife is a no-brainer. And the list you mentioned (pens, pencils, paperclip shot with a rubber band) can NOT be used as a deadly weapon when “used correctly.” Only when they are NOT used correctly can they be used as a weapon. 😉

      http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33289924/ns/today-today_people/

      • Joy says:

        I feel in order for a child this age to be sent to reform school, there has to be intent to harm someone and he was using this “tool” properly. He brought it to eat his lunch not to stab anyone. He didn’t even know he was in trouble until his name got called to go to the principals office. This is also why I feel zero tolerance is wrong and things like this need to be handled as they happen. How can you possibly say this is the same thing as someone who’s bringing a weapon to school to hurt someone. This boy wasn’t doing that. Some kids this age are innocent whether we like to believe kids still are innocent or not. Some still are.

      • Laura says:

        No, it wasn’t a plastic serrated eating utensil. It was a metal fold-up eating utensil.

        Only when “not used correctly” can a pocket knife be a deadly weapon. Same with a butcher knife and a shotgun, for that matter.

        The kid is six.

        He brought his eating tool to school to eat.

        There was no intent.

        Nobody stole the utensil to use to bully or otherwise harm anyone else.

        The teachers, principal and administration overreacted.

        The Zero Tolerance Policy should go, and the teachers, principal and administration should get a backbone and use some common sense. Yes, a line has to be drawn. If this was a butcher knife or a gun, OR if this student whipped out this knife (even folded) and threatened another student with it, I would be agreeing with the punishment. But then I’d be agreeing with the suspension WITHOUT the Zero Tolerance Policy. But Common Sense must be the overarching value here. Too often, schools put these stupid ZTP’s in place, and then they hide behind it. ZTP’s should not exist. Every situation is different.

      • SKL says:

        I have no problem with them confiscating the knife and hauling the kid’s butt to the principal’s office and calling his parents and even putting a note in his file. He needs to keep his knife out of school. That’s not the issue. The issue is the severity of the punishment.

        You have to have mal intent before that kind of punishment can be used as a deterrent. For something the child didn’t even realize was wrong, this type of punishment will just screw with his ability to understand consequences and learn to self-regulate. Furthermore, keeping a child out of his regular classroom should only be done if the child is a continued threat to others. Having inadvertently broken a rule that did not in fact involve violence or intended violence does not pass the test for this level of punishment.

        I think that in most states, the law doesn’t even recognize a child’s ability to commit a crime until age 7. There are no legal punishments for such young children. Educators need to understand the reasons for this age-old standard and learn how to apply the same wisdom.

  9. James says:

    I understand why they have such a policy, as no one wants knives, guns, brass knuckles in a school but come on its a jounior with a lunch box which sounds like the equivelent to a swiss army utility knife. now a policy is a guidelane and does not have to be delt with in absouloutes however it does no surprise me that some jobsworth thinks they are protecting there students from a would be rambo. The worrying thing is its these idiots that are ment to be educating the kids. sounds to me like someone needs a beating with the stupid stick!

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