Perhaps you heard the other day about Zachary Christie, the Newark, Del., first grader suspended for bringing a camping tool to school. Christie fell prey to his school district's insipid, mindless "zero tolerance" policy. Local education officials, in their wisdom, had sought to place the bright young lad in reform school for his "offense."
Well, school officials may be stupid, but they aren't crazy. Following a torrent of publicity -- including coverage from the New York Times, Good Morning America, NBC's Today Show and the Nightly News -- the Christina School District Board on Tuesday night revised its insipid, mindless policy to give principals a bit more latitude for handling cases like Zachary's.
(Here's a press release outlining the policy changes. As is often the case with such documents, it could use some jargon-to-English translation. The gist of it is that Kindergartners and first graders will no longer be automatically shunted off to reform school.)
Zachary's parents wrote on their Web site Tuesday night:
Unfortunately, while the school board did act to ensure that the youngest children in the Christina School District won't fall victim to zero-tolerance policies, they did nothing to address older students. There is no evidence that zero-tolerance policies do anything to reduce school violence, and there is significant evidence that these policies harm students. It is our hope that by working with the school board and local lawmakers, we'll be able to overturn and do away with all zero-tolerance policies and put into place policies that will take into consideration a student's age, intent, disciplinary history, and other circumstances that arise on a case by case basis.
That's quite right -- and perfectly sensible. And until yesterday, I might have said "fat chance." The events in Delaware give me reason to think some reform is possible. Zero-tolerance policies are the hellspawn of government lawyers and bureaucrats who sought to erect a bulwark against the litigious parents of incorrigible children. No doubt they've been successful in averting a few lawsuits over the years. But perverse results of such policies far outweigh the benefits. It's well past time school districts dispensed with zero-tolerance policies and reintroduced judgment, fairness and accountability into the classroom.
Update: But will there be justice for Matthew Whalen?
A 17-year-old Eagle Scout in upstate New York has been barred from stepping foot on school grounds for 20 days — for keeping a 2-inch pocketknife locked in a survival kit in his car.
Matthew Whalen, a senior at Lansingburgh Senior High School, says he follows the Boy Scoutmotto and is always prepared, stocking his car with a sleeping bag, water, a ready-to-eat meal — and the knife, which was given to him by his grandfather, a police chief in a nearby town.
But Lansingburgh High has a zero-tolerance policy, and when school officials discovered that Whalen kept his knife locked in his car, he says, they suspended him for five days — and then tacked on an additional 15 after a hearing.
Keep reading. The story actually gets more idiotic.
Update: Even more idiotic still.
(Hat tip: Instapundit.)