Zero-tolerance policy is not common sense

We understand the need for rules. We understand the need for discipline and consequences. Having established these things, however, there is a need for common sense to intervene when someone breaks a rule without causing any harm.

Zero-tolerance rules seem to block such a common sense approach. In Wapakoneta, Ohio, a zero-tolerance approach to guns means a young boy likely will miss up to a year of school for a thoughtless but innocent mistake.

An unnamed 12-year-old student is on the verge of expulsion after taking to school a BB gun. He intended to trade it for a cell phone or CD player, Superintendent Dean Wittwer said. Instead, he was caught with it.

Wittwer said the boy obviously did not intend to harm anyone. “This kid ain’t bad. He was crying and very sorry,” Wittwer said.

There once was a time when this would have been punishment enough for the boy. But Columbine and other school shootings have changed the educational world. As a result, the zero-tolerance policy in Wapakoneta, and just about everywhere else, means dumb but simple mistakes are not permissible. With the superintendent already determining no harm would have come to anyone, the only recourse the Wapakoneta district has is to kick the boy out of school. “We’ll react to this like we will as if it was a normal handgun,” Wittwer said.

This is unfortunate.

And this is why, despite the legitimate fears about school violence, such zero-tolerance rules need to go. Granted, school officials are under more pressure these days to intervene when violence seems likely. We credit them for their tenacity, but there is such a thing as overreaction. We live in a world with many gray areas; everything isn’t black and white, and shouldn’t be treated as if it were.

School officials are right to react to a gun being in the building. Having done that, the boy’s punishment should be based on what he actually did rather than treating him as if he set out to kill classmates.

The district already has determined it was a childish mistake by the student when he took the BB gun to school. He’s been yanked from class, sent home and hasn’t been allowed to attend school since. Our guess is he has learned his lesson. There’s no point in further punishing the child. It doesn’t serve the education process.

Kicking out a student who showed the poor judgment of a 12-year-old does nothing to protect other students.

We hope common sense will ultimately prevail over zero tolerance.