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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

States Realize Zero Tolerance Policies are Overbroad

From azcentral.com: Fifth-graders in California who adorned their mortarboards with tiny plastic soldiers last week to support troops in Iraq were forced to cut off the toys' miniature weapons. A Utah boy was suspended for giving his cousin a cold pill prescribed to both students. In Rhode Island, a kindergartner was suspended for bringing a plastic knife to school so he could cut cookies.

It's all part of "zero tolerance" rules, which typically mandate severe punishments for weapons and drug offenses regardless of the circumstances.

Lawmakers in several states say the strict policies in schools have resulted in many punishments that lack common sense, and are seeking to loosen the restrictions.

"A machete is not the same as a butter knife. A water gun is not the same as a gun loaded with bullets," said Rhode Island state Sen. Daniel Issa, a former school board member who worries that no-tolerance rules are applied blindly and too rigidly.

Issa sponsored a bill requiring school districts to decide punishments for alcohol, drug and non-firearm weapons violations on a case-by-case basis. It passed the Senate and House and now heads for the governor's desk.

Some have long been aware of the problems of zero tolerance. For the last decade, Mississippi has allowed local school districts to reduce previously mandatory one-year expulsions for violence, weapons and drug offenses. Utah altered its zero-tolerance policy on drugs so asthmatic students can carry inhalers. The American Bar Association has recommended ending zero-tolerance policies.

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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