Help Needed! Zero Tolerance Gets Third Grader & His Cool Knife Expelled

Hi Readers! Here we go again – officials overreacting as if this makes them smart and proactive (rather than…overreacting). L.
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Dear Free-Range Kids: My daughter’s third grade friend brought his pocket knife to school on accident.  It was just in his pants’ pocket from the weekend.  An hour after school was dismissed, he and his friends were still playing on school grounds and he showed his knife to them.
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One of them was a girl and because the blade was pointing her direction, she decided he was “brandishing it” and went to tell her mom, who told the office, who told the district, who told the cops, one of whom said if he saw him with a knife again, he could shoot him.  (That’s right — preserve and protect — bully the eight-year-old.)
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He’s being expelled.  I know you post stories like these, but I was wondering if you had any suggestions of where my friend could go for support.  She’s trying to find a lawyer and figure out what her options are.
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I’d like to take this to the media since it’s been pretty effective in getting other districts to relent on their Zero Tolerance policies.  Anyway, do you have any suggestions of where to start? [LENORE: Yes! Here!]
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The incident was at Cumberland Elementary School in Sunnyvale, CA.  The Sunnyvale School District (between San Jose and San Francisco) is in charge of punishment.  To his credit, our school principal tried to just have him suspended, but once the district got wind of it, under California’s Zero Tolerance policy, they are required to issue a mandatory recommendation of expulsion and contact law enforcement — enter the threatening policeman.
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The boy is terrified.  He’s never been a troublemaker. He has a brother in kindergarten who is baffled.  – A California Mom.
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Lenore here: The writer has set up an email account for any lawyers or press to contact her about the incident:  bringbackdominick@gmail.com

This is NOT the knife the boy showed his friends.

Keep Overprotective Parenting from Becoming the LAW!

Hi Readers! I am thrilled to present to you a post by David Pimentel, a professor of law and author of a scholarly article on how to keep overprotective parenting from becoming the law. As he writes in his abstract:

…the powerful influence of media has sensationalized the risks to children, skewing popular perceptions of the genuine risks children face and of what constitutes a reasonable or appropriate response to such risks. Consequently, individuals who do not buy into Intensive Parenting norms, including those from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, may be subjecting themselves to criminal prosecution for child neglect and endangerment.

The criminal statutes are, for the most part, very vague, leaving these prosecutions—which amount to little more than one person’s second-guessing the parenting choices of another—in the discretion of prosecutors, who bring the charges, and of juries, who render verdicts. If prosecutors and jurors share the media-fed misperceptions of risk, overprotective parenting becomes the de facto legal standard of care.

Terrifying!! He’s fighting it where it counts — in the court of legal opinion. Please click on his site and then download his article to show that there is genuine, even passionate interest in the topic! (The legal world takes note of how many downloads he gets.) And later this week  I will share a post by him. — L.

Where are their parents? Headed for jail?

Outrage of the Week: Mom HANDCUFFED for Tardy Kids

Hi Folks — This blog, as you know, is always trying to distinguish between real threats to children and the over-hyped ones. In this case, the fear of children being neglected or falling behind has gone overboard.  The mom is due in court this morning  — Wednesday. I wish her a lot of luck, and a judge with compassion and common sense. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Here in Loudoun, VA,  I am a the mother of three little girls at an elementary school who was just ARRESTED for getting my girls late to school. After the fifth offense there was a meeting with a truant officer. We were late twice since then, which resulted in the surprise of three officers showing up on this Sat night ( 1.21.2012),  where I was literally handcuffed and brought to the Adult Detention Center to meet with the magistrate who chose to release me with a $3,000 bond promised to be paid if I fail to show up for the arraignment in a few days.  [N.B. The court date is Weds., Jan. 25.]

The charge is “contributing to the delinquency of her minor children.”  The VA code is written that after five absences the truant officer meets with parents and then works with them in cases in which students are absent without awareness and notification from a parent.  My truant officer seems to miss the rather obvious distinction between ABSENCE without a parent’s knowledge, and TARDINESS.  Our lateness has been, on average, less than ten minutes.

Considering that all four of us — the kids and me — have had medical care for disabilities (some with a diagnosis of ADHD, others with other psychological issues, which the school is very aware of),  I find it not only a waste of resources and taxpayer dollars to engage our police and courts for this, but  also an absolute failure on the part of our school to service those with disabilities with any sort of empathy and understanding. There is nothing short of animosity in their treatment of me as a mother, as if I am incompetent due to the one problem of having difficulty getting my children to school on time.

While it is debatable whether or not I am a decent mother, EVEN IF I WERE NOT it would hardly be CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR to be so imperfect. — A Virginia Mom

Lenore here again: I agree. Once we start criminalizing imperfect parents, all of us are at risk…because there are no perfect parents.  

The Backlash Against the Columbine Backlash

Readers — As we enter 2012, there is cause for hope, as this article shows. Legislators in Colorado, home to the Columbine massacre, are taking a new and rational look at their zero tolerance laws. These are laws that REQUIRED schools to act brainlessly and not distinguish between, say, a wooden replica of a rifle and a smoking AK47. Laws that told school administrators they’d be WRONG to treat a butter knife as a butter knife rather than as a deadly weapon. According to the website TimesCall.com:

A legislative committee moved forward with a proposal that seeks to give education officials more discretion over expulsions and police referrals, which lawmakers say became more common after the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, where two students killed 13 people and then themselves.

Committee members said zero-tolerance policies adopted during the last decade have tied the hands of school administrators, who are forced to expel students or involve law enforcement for minor infractions.

How wonderful to untie the hands of school administrators and free them to reason rather than to blindly (over)react. If Colorado is where the Zero Tolerance Revolution began, let’s hope that this is where it begins its demise.

The proposed legislation would make expulsions mandatory only in cases of students bringing a firearm to school and would amend school discipline codes to distinguish minor infractions from violations that need police involvement. The proposal would also direct school boards to create discipline codes that limit suspensions and expulsions to cases where a student’s conduct threatens school safety.

Significantly, this new legislation is co-sponsored by a Democrat and a Republican — more proof that, rather than taking knee-jerk umbrage at something the other party suggested, people are starting to use their brains (and not, I guess, their knees). Let’s hear it for rationality, compassion and no longer overreacting to “threats” that don’t threaten our kids at all. — L.

If she brings a butter knife to school, she will no longer be considered armed and dangerous.

You Must Be 15 to…

…wear this hat. Or so the manufacturer recommends:

Because a 14-year-old might eat it? (And thanks to reader Sierra for this photo.)

Outrage of the Week: Toronto School Bans Terrifying Orbs!

Hi Readers! A number of you sent me this story, about a K-8 school in Toronto that has temporarily banned all balls that are not Nerf-soft, after some near  misses, as well as an adult who got an actual hit to her actual head by a soccer ball and suffered a concussion.

The school board defended its action as, guess what? Prudent  Big surprise. But Dr. Mark Tremblay, chief scientist at Healthy Active Living Kids Canada, is quoted as saying, “The health benefits far exceed the risks associated with them.”

Yay! And  — duh. Charles Adler pretty much sums up my feelings about the ban with this essay. When the choice is between kids playing or kids standing oh-so-safely still, I think we can pretty much agree on which should win. But feel free to weigh in: Should kids play with soccer, foot, basket or volleyballs on the school playground? Or is this just a tragedy waiting to happen? Have a ball! — L.

Good lord, what is that dangerous object sitting next to the sweet, doomed moppet?

Signing Kids Out of School: Does It Have to Be This Hard?

Hi Readers! I have a feeling many people can relate to this comment (which came in response to “The Drop-Off in Drop-Offs” post). I know I can — something very similar happened to me.  L. 

Dear Free-Range Kids: My daughter is a sophomore in high school.  I also have a 3 year old and am expecting a new little one this winter.  My only real complaint with her school is that I cannot send a note telling them when I will pick her up for an appointment and have her wait outside for me.  No.  I have to drag my 3 year old (and soon, my newborn as well) out of the car, damn the weather, haul us all inside, go to the attendance office, sign her out, keep my toddler entertained and contained and quiet WITHOUT running or climbing on the benches (his shoes might get germs on the benches, and then someone would have to wipe them down with antibacterial wipes — I was actually told this), and WAIT while they send a special runner up to my daughter’s classroom to give her a hall pass, then keep waiting until she arrives at my side, whereupon we can finally walk out together.

It absolutely infuriates me!  She’s going to be driving soon!  She knows her way around.  And she even knows the way from her classroom to the curb, where I would gladly pull up and wait for her to arrive.

Not only do I have to physically sign her out, but if I don’t also send a note upon her return, the absence is unexcused.  This is too much!  The kids are not in prison, for goodness’ sake.

It hasn’t been that long since I was in school myself, and when I was in school, not only could I wait outside for my mom to pick me up for an appointment, if the appointment was close enough, I could – gasp – WALK myself there and back to school.  It’s dispiriting to watch the changes. — Duckmama

It’s also dispiriting to inevitably be told this is all for the children’s “safety,” when clearly it isn’t. It doesn’t affect their safety one whit! They are allowed to walk home, so why is it MORE dangerous to stand outside for a few minutes, or even walk home, but at a different time? “Safety” is the all-purpose, brook-no-dissension shibboleth that stands in for, “New rule we are imposing whether it makes sense or not, just because it seems sort of responsible even if it’s actually a pointless pain.” – L