Proposed Maryland anti-zero-tolerance law would tell schools to stop suspending kids who point their fingers at each other and say "bang"

Maryland State Senator J.B. Jennings (R) has introduced Senate Bill 1058, The Reasonable School Discipline Act of 2013, which is aimed at ending the incredibly stupid "zero tolerance" policies that result in kids being suspended or expelled for pointing a stick at another kid and saying "bang!" Here's the preamble:

FOR the purpose of prohibiting a principal from suspending or expelling a student who brings to school or possesses on school property a picture of a gun, a computer image of a gun, a facsimile of a gun, or any other object that resembles a gun but serves another purpose; prohibiting a principal from suspending or expelling a student who makes a hand shape or gesture resembling a gun…

Lenore "Free Range Kids" Skenazy sums up some of the incidents that inspired the bill: "the Hello Kitty bubble gun, and the Lego gun, and the imaginary grenade throw in a game of imaginary save-the-world, and last but not least the terrifying pastry gun."

Zero-tolerance is the same thing as zero-intelligence. You don't need human beings to enforce zero-tolerance systems -- if you want to run schools on the basis of "zero-tolerance," you could fire all the teachers and replace them with Commodore PET personal computers running very short BASIC programs.

Right to Bear Gun-Shaped Pop-Tarts Law Drafted

(Image: Gun, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from pedroalonso's photostream)


  1. I don’t get this willingly misunderstanding the problem.  Zero-tolerance policies aren’t a function of rampant stupidity, they’re a function of bureaucrats who want policies that never put them in a position of possibly losing their plum pension program by exercising abysmally poor judgement.

    1. Bill’s right.  Any zero-tolerance policy precludes discussion and turns a behavior issue into a witch-hunt.  All an administration or teacher has to do, to deal with a supposed problem, is merely say there was a violation and expel the student.  Hands washed, no more problem for the school.  It’s a lazy way.

      It is also dehumanizing & unfair to children, who make mistakes and exercise poor judgment.  And it precludes any teaching moments.  “Why would you point your finger at Billy and shoot him?”   “Because he got in front of me in line.”  “Maybe you can just tell him you’re unhappy with him and he should wait his turn.  Stand up for yourself.  You don’t need to shoot him.  OK, so what are you going to tell him?”

      A zero-tolerance policy removes the adult’s responsibility to actually INSTRUCT children on how to exercise their rights and express their feelings.  It allows no failure-try again-success cycle.  Zero tolerance is for ignorant jerks who have taken over our country and schools.  I point my finger at all of them and say, “Bang!  You suck!  GTFO!”

    2. That’s just half of it though, and really more of a symptom of the underlying problem. The root cause are the moral panics that make it safer to punish the innocent than to appear soft on drugs or violence.

      1. The sole purpose of zero tolerance policies is to transfer liability for incidents from the school to the inmates.

    3. “plum pension program”

      These policies are usually created by state/city school boards/districts, not teachers. I say this because you seem to really be emphasizing the pension angle here. In my city most of these board members are unelected and appointed by politicians. They’re mostly wealthy business people, or professional charter-bug education “reformers” and anti-union/labor in their views. I honestly don’t know how this originated in Maryland, but I doubt it was with a teacher or rank and file worker worried about their pension.

    1.  Our school had a room full of Commodore PETS, and one teacher who had the remotest clue how to use a computer, and who gave IT lessons in his spare time when he could. They gathered dust, became obsolete and, presumably were thrown out at a cost of thousands…

    2. There’s no hate of arcane technology going on here, Cory’s simply pointing out that “zero-tolerance” policies possess less processing power than a PET.

  2. It seems like large portions of American society are So scared of other large portions, that one side wants every citizen armed to the teeth, and the other side can’t stand even the Concept of a gun recreated in plastic, plaster, wood, pastry, human fingers or thoughts. 

    Perhaps if people stopped freaking out and banning t-shirts with guns on them, other people would be less scared that they’re about to lose their ability to buy guns!

    1. That’s a really good point, and I never made the connection.  Like most states, Maryland has its red areas, where hunting is a way of life and they’re not 100% sure which side they were on in the Civil War.  It also has the deep-blue DC suburbs, which mostly control state politics.

      I wonder how these zero-tolerance policies sound to RKBA Republicans?  (And I note the bill’s sponsor is R.) On the one hand, they’re “tough” but they’re also “politically correct.”  Decisions, decisions.

  3. If gun playing was a real problem, then first they should call the parents and ask them to take action. Actually, any school behavior that punishes kids outright seems to cowardly avoid the root causes.

    We used to play a cool game of hot-potato at school, which we sometimes called the bomb play. We would throw an imaginary bomb in a circle, while someone made a burning wick noise. When the noise stopped, the bomb would go off and whoever was holding it would  “lose” — which meant nothing actually, we never figured out what “lose” meant in the game and we just kept playing. I imagine we would be sent to Guantánamo today. Turns out I grew up to be a perfectly normal human being, whatever normal means, and have never bombed anything besides some calculus exams.

  4. While I’m heartened by this attempt to restore some sanity, I think it is only addressing specific symptoms, rather than the root cause of the problem with zero tolerance, which is that it inherently leaves no room for common sense.

    I find it hard to believe that the drafters of the original zero-tolerance laws (are these even laws – or is it just short-sighted school “policies”?) intended pastry-wielders and imaginary grenade tossers to get school records and suspensions.  The mindlessness of these policies is what needs to be addressed, not the specifics of having a right to bear gun-shaped pastry and loaded fingers.

    1. I agree that the drafters of first zero tolerance policies didn’t expect this. When the thousandth (or whatever) school adopted the same policies years later, though…

  5. Maybe they can also stop suspending kids who bring in over-the-counter drugs and prescription drugs they actually need to take.

    1. Most schools supervise those kids.  My son is one of them, and has never had a problem with school administration.  If there was a case like this, I wonder if some parent didn’t give the school vital information?

      1. I turned 18 before I graduated high school. If I were seen taking tylenol in my car before driving home, I would have been suspended. For many drugs, supervision is unnecessary and overly intrusive past middle school.

        1. I graduated high school in 1975. My critical writing teacher was the local hash dealer. You have my sympathy.

          1. I know of schools that were significantly crazier. My experience was in a relatively safe middle class town on Long Island at a school where 88% of students go straight to college.

      2. During High School in California, I was supposed to take antibiotics Exactly every 8 hours, one of the times falling during my geometry class. I was supposed to go to the high school office, get a pass, to the Nurse’s office in the primary school across the road, take the pill, then go back to class. This would have taken 20 minutes out of a high level class, every day

        Instead I just kept them in my backpack and downed them while sitting in the back row, I even learned to knock them back without water.

  6. I actually support zero tolerance for educators.  The first time they act this stupid toward a child, they should be fired, fined their last year’s pay, blacklisted, forbidden from ever working with children again and denied unemployment or public aid.

    1. Except that it’s rarely the fault entirely of the educator in contact with the child, but of a system that’s all-too-ready to clobber them for actually exercising human judgement.

      1. True. Mild example: my high school adopted a policy of making students wear their ID cards on a lanyard at all times. Many teachers protested often. They were ignored.

  7. When the nanny has to take care of the nanny taking care of the nannies… THEN perhaps we have reached the true definition of ‘nanny state’ government.

    1.  If you say “nanny” one more time Milton Friedman’s ghost will come out of your monitor.

  8. A dumb law that was meant to shape moral behavior – and not actually catch terrorists – is going to be just as dumb with yet another law meant to shape moral behavior.

    The problem with the zero-tolerance law is that it is a LAW, as opposed to a guideline. Laws are attempts to mark an exact border between what is acceptable and what is not. All laws fail to do this properly, because you are illegal (and thus entirely condemned) on one side and legal (and therefore tacitly approved) on the other.

    Now we want to add on top of a bad law yet another law that PROHIBITS a principal from doing this or that. Really? Absolutely prohibits under ANY circumstances?

    Instead of turning another situation that we were once able to handle with common sense into yet another set of absolute prohibitions and forced actions, why not repeal or reword the first law to attach wiggle room for individual judgement?


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