Robert, but what are your suggestions for how schools could realistically approach the very real problems caused by the presence of knives in schools? (I'm not just talking of a few isolated incidences, either. It's a growing problem in the whole community which has spilled into schools, sadly.)
I know the problem well. I briefly attended a rough school in Colton, California that had dedicated cops on campus (I still have his business card, as I was a frequent "snitch" about the gang violence) and an anonymous hotline to report weapons.
I saw knives and guns being sold in classrooms and had a friend killed in front of me walking home from school by a total stranger (both 14 years old) as a part of a gang initiation rite
. Hell I reported one gun sale to the "anonymous" line, but it rang to an answering machine in the principal's office and the guy's cousin was there at the time and they attacked me a week later. My last day in that school I was knocked unconscious by an aluminum baseball bat in a robbery.
I think after that very violent school experience I know school violence very well, and I support no tolerance for it. But that doesn't mean that there should be no interpretation as to what constitutes a weapon and I don't want some kid who eats his apple into the shape of a gun to be treated like the kids who actually brought guns to our school and would shoot at us. These are very dissimilar cases and all I am really saying is that this should be reflected by very dissimilar reactions.
The school in question banned things like wallet chains, that's fine, people were using them as a weapon. They'd ban all sports logos, also fine, the gangs were using them as colors. I had to go home one day because all I had to wear was a t-shirt from the salvation army that had some kind of sports logo on it but I understood the reasoning behind the rule as I'd been attacked on Halloween for wearing Chicago Bulls logos that apparently were not appropriate to my side of town. But if they were to take a once centimeter weapon shaped piece of plastic and treat it just the same as the guns and knives I was seeing and punish it just as harshly, then there is simply a problem in either the rule or its application.
But as a general sort of approach (& given the state's "duty of care" (safety) legal responsibilities that schools must exist within, how do you think the problem would be best approached?
I think the best approach is zero tolerance for what you are actually trying to stop. But we need to ask ourselves: is what we are trying to stop the scenario where a tiny kid takes a one-centimeter bit of plastic that is shaped like a gun to school?
If that isn't the situation we want to have zero tolerance for then it makes no sense to formulate the zero tolerance rules in a way that prevents us from reacting to this kind of situation differently than the real things we want to stop.
I understand that we can't always judge intent, and that schools should probably err on the side of caution (the kid being suspended is better than being killed) but I just think that in practice when people say "zero tolerance" that usually means they intend to start overreacting.
What I advocate is no tolerance of weapons but also no forfeiture of common sense. So if the item in question is not legitimately threatening to anyone I don't think it should be treated the same as a weapon. And if a kid brings a t-shirt to class (perfectly within the rules) and begins to choke someone with it then I think it should be treated as a weapon.
So in practice, I'd recommend that schools not try to pre-define all weapons. Anything
can be a weapon. And I'd recommend that they open a range of responses so that they can punish the kid that brings a loaded gun to school differently than the kid who brings an action figure's gun to school.
Of course, this means they'd have to use their own judgement, and as roger points out this would represent taking responsibility that I can see the appeal of shirking.