On The Flip Side
"Zero Tolerance" Policy
Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 23:02
Stop Violent Behavior Now
by Maggie Maretz
For The Heights
Although in the past a zero-tolerance sanction like this for adolescents may have seemed extremely restrictive and hypersensitive, it is increasingly relevant and necessary as the unfortunate reality of school shootings becomes clearer and clearer with each life lost. Of course, it is mostly likely that a rowdy child feigning gunplay is simply doing what kids do—fooling around with his or her friends. But after tragedies like Aurora and Sandy Hook, the last thing we should do is be lenient and understanding toward what may well be either indicators or catalysts for future involvement with weapons, especially when the aggression is repetitive and directed specifically at fellow students or authority figures. Schools in particular are historically common targets for shootings, and therefore the administrations at many schools—particularly since the horrifying events at Sandy Hook—are understandably on edge about any possible threats to the safety as well as the feeling of safety in the school environment.
Take, for example, a 5-year-old student at Hyannis Elementary School in Hyannis, MA: he was warned and threatened with a two-week suspension by administrators after he repeatedly refused to listen to his teacher’s requests that he stop chasing his fellow students with a “gun” made of plastic building blocks. Of course, it can be presumed that he intended no real harm, and had no concept of the fear that has been circulating and causing a heightened sensitivity to gun violence due to the frequency and severity of school shootings. But there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be reprimanded severely for disobeying his teacher and likely making his fellow students feel intimidated and afraid. Our society will only benefit from nipping things like this in the bud, and sending the message while children’s minds are still developing that guns and other weapons cannot and will not be taken lightly.
Many parents have responded to the rule by protesting that children should be able to play at a young age, and that this zero-tolerance policy has the effect of making them grow up faster than is necessary, but this is not the case. It is a sweeping statement to say that children cannot possibly have fun and enjoy childhood without pretending to use guns—they can still laugh, play games, go on the monkey bars, and do everything that might make an adult feel nostalgic. The only effect this rule has is to prevent naughty behavior from transforming into destructive behavior that is beyond society’s control.
Allow the Kids to be Kids
by Maggie Powers
As a child, many hours of play were spent in my backyard. I have vivid memories of being chased by my younger brother with gun noises spewing from his mouth and a stick that vaguely resembled a gun in hand. If that very scene had taken place in 2013 rather than 2000, and at school rather than in my backyard with my brother enveloped in his fantasy world, he could have faced two weeks of suspension. Yes, suspension, as a preschooler.
According to Boston.com, this very situation happened to a five-year-old boy in Barnstable Public School in Hyannis, MA. During playtime he made a “gun” out of Legos and proceeded to point it at other children and make pretend gun noises. School officials told the boy’s mother that if this ever happened again he would face two weeks suspension.
In the wake of Columbine, Virginia Tech, and the most recent Sandy Hook shooting, I recognize that the parents, teachers, schools, and the nation simply want to do everything possible to protect the children. Zero tolerance policies are not the answer, however.
There is much debate as to whether or not zero tolerance policies are actually effective. According to the American Psychological Association, “Schools are not any safer or more effective in disciplining children than before these zero tolerance policies.”
Zero tolerance policies treat small children as adults who understand complex issues many adults have trouble grasping. Is it really fair to think a four or five-year-old would be able to first understand what a school shooting is and then make the connection to their play with Legos? These zero tolerance policies are robbing children of their innocence and the imaginative play that is so crucial to their development.
Our nation has seen far too many school shootings and preventative measures need to be taken. Children should not have to grow up where their sanctuary of learning is plagued with the fear of gun violence. Energy should be focused, however, in more productive directions. The “troubled teen” stereotype persists for a reason—most gunmen entering schools have been in their teens or 20s. Suspending kindergarteners will only create more controversy around this already complicated issue; it will not bring any momentum to stopping the issue of gun violence in schools. Personally, I never want to live in a world where I have to explain to my son that he cannot go to school with his friends because of something he made out of Legos.