Attorney General: Law Day Essay Contest Winners / Honorable Mention

Connecticut Attorney General's Office

Law Day Essay Contest Winners / Honorable Mention

May 1, 2000

35  Michael McNamara (HM)   Holy Cross School
221 Farmington Avenue
New Britain, CT 06053
  Sister Barbara Wanat
Avenue 860 / 225-4275
57  Jamie Richardson (HM)   Pine Point School
89 Barnes Road
Stonington, CT 06378
  Mr. Salsich
860 / 535-0606
141 Leanne Stunker (4th)   Bethel Middle School
600 Whittlesey Drive
Bethel, CT 06801
  Mrs. Spain
203 / 794-8670
296 Lauren Colello (HM)   Griswold Middle School
144 Bailey Road
Rocky Hill, CT 06067
  Mr. Rubasky
860 / 258-7741
364 Tony Casubolo (2nd)   All Saints Catholic School
139 West Rocks Road
Norwalk, CT 06851
  Mr. Michael Deal
203 / 847-3881
378 Caitlin LaCroix (HM)   All Saints Catholic School
  Mr. Michael Deal
424 Julie Flynn (1st)   Henry James Memorial School
155 Firetown Road
Simsbury, CT 06070
  Mrs. O'Neil
860 / 651-3341
425 Elise Schmidt (HM)   Henry James Memorial School   Mrs. O'Neil
426 Jake Pawlowski (5th)   Henry James Memorial School   Mrs. O'Neil
438 Kristen Ward (3rd)   Henry James Memorial School   Mrs. O'Neil

Michael McNamara
School: Holy Cross School
Age: Fourteen
Teacher: Sister Barbara

School violence is a shocking American problem. Is automatic expulsion a fair and effective penalty for acts of violence, possession of weapons, and other violations of school policy? I believe that this question can not be answered with a yes or no. It is a question that needs to be addressed by individual case.

First, policies and rules would need to be written and taught about what is considered an act of violence and the consequences for committing them. Education is the best tool for reshaping violent behavior. If students were instructed in ways to manage their anger and aggressive feelings, less violence would be displayed.

How should schools deal with students who possess weapons? Weapons such as knives or guns are obviously not acceptable in school. However, common classroom objects can become weapons. Students must understand that any object can be used as a weapon if it is meant to harm another. Thus, a strict consequence must be enforced against the perpetrator.

School crimes such as vandalism, drugs, all types of harassment, and chronic disruptive behavior need to be handled with an appropriate consequence. Informing students that these kinds of actions will be dealt with swiftly and forcefully is a necessary beginning.

Expulsion is a serious consequence. It means that a student is ejected from school, deprived of being educated in this environment. Is expulsion fair? I believe for serious transgressions, expulsion is fair. Bringing a gun or knife equals expulsion, and that no explanation would justify its presence. Then perhaps, students would be deterred. For excessively aggressive acts toward others in school, expulsion seems fair. When you break a serious rule involving the welfare of another, then your rights to be a member of the school are forfeited. The rights belongs to the law, not to the true breakers.

Vandalism, possession of drugs and other school crimes also may warrant expulsion. Each case should be listened to and decided upon separately.

The goal of schools is to provide an education. Violence has no place in our educational plans. Teachers and administrators need to be clear about their standards of acceptable behavior and enforce the consequences. Expulsion is effective if it promotes a safe school environment. No student should be afraid to go to school.

Jamie Richardson
School: Pine Point School
Age: 14
Teacher: Hamilton Salsich

Violence. While some call it a natural impulse, many people believe it has pervaded our society. It can be found in movies, television, the news, and most recently, our schools. There isn't one American who doesn't know about the tragedy at Columbine or the incident in Michigan that took a first grader's life. The mindless killing both of and by our nation's children has become so common it's almost trendy. So what do we do when we find reason to suspect one of our children as a vehicle for the horror that is violence? Do we ruin the child, potential life for potential life? Do we try to get him or her possibly unneeded or ineffective help? Or do we just hold our breaths and pray that we're dreaming? And if we cannot decide how to handle our own children, does the school have a right to? If they do, how should this be handled?

'Expulsion," as defined in the American College Dictionary, means "the act of driving out or expelling." Automatic expulsion, a method growing in popularity, shows a "no tolerance' approach when it comes to penalizing acts of violence, possession of weapons or other violations school policy. If a student is seen committing violent acts or possessing an object commonly used to commit violent acts, they will be taken out of the school. That way, the potential problem is removed before any extensive damage. However, while it may seem fair and effective to some, in truth it is based on paranoia and a desire for safety. Sometimes it can be harsh. Expelling a student for bringing in a nail file may seem silly, but for some it is a cruel reality. Like the much-debated capital punishment, with automatic expulsion there is always a chance for mistakes. While a real future drug dealer may be expelled, it could just as easily have been an innocent student whose locker was used as a hiding place for someone else's marijuana. Many people have had their lives and reputations ruined when convicted for a crime they didn't commit. Why cause such potential misfortune on our children? After all, as the popular justice saying goes, "It is better to let nine guilty walk than convict one innocent."

The thought of these risks makes one wonder whether automatic expulsion is even effective. Will a child found with a gun be less likely to become a murderer if kept from an education of responsibility and morals? Is a teenager who is found with marijuana in their locker more likely to be arrested before the age of twenty than one left with the time to sell drugs? The answers to these questions lie in the dark recesses of the human mind, but what is obvious is that preventing someone from learning morals and how to interact constructively with peers is not the way to stop them from committing acts of violence.

While automatic expulsion may save lives now, too many times it ruins them,. It is no guarantee against the future and encourages potential crime by not educating children in both academics and morality. Those who haven't learned should be kept away from weapons, not education. Students found with weapons or committing acts of violence should be embraced and helped, not turned out to the cold, harsh world. Violence may be a natural impulse, but it is our job to teach others how to control it and how to know the difference between right and wrong. This will help us ward off the violence that has afflicted us. I pray for the obliteration of this sickness, when automatic expulsion will be an unnecessary practice.

Leanne Stunker
School: Bethel Middle School
Age: 14
Teacher: Mrs. Spain
Zero-tolerance is Worth Zero

Automatic expulsion is a common punishment for possession of drugs or weapons, violence, or other violations of school policy. This is a type of zero-tolerance law. There is widespread controversy over "zero-tolerance" laws in Connecticut. First, schools are better off without a zero-tolerance policy because it is so easy to abuse a policy such as this. Secondly, schools don't always enforce zero-tolerance policies in the best way, and many people are conftised about what zero-tolerance really means. Finally, expelling a student is not usually the best to help the student. Automatic expulsion or zero-tolerance is an ineffective method of discipline for Connecticut's schools.

It is so easy to abuse automatic expulsion, because almost anything can be called a weapon. Aaron Martin of Kams High School in Knox County was carrying an awl (a woodworking tool) that he had from a woodworking class at the school. It fell out of his pocket, and he was expelled. He didn't use the awl in a threatening way, or do anything to suggest he meant to harm anyone with it. Tanya Eiserer, a twelve-year-old at Morton Middle School in Omaha, was expelled in March of 2000 after she brought a pair of safety scissors with blunt edges to school. In Buena Park, California, a five-year-old was forced to change schools after he carried a disposable razor that he had run across at his bus stop to school with him. Also, an unbelievable number of students have been suspended, or even expelled after bringing nail clippersto school. Children as young as seven have been victims of this senselessness. It would be awfully hard to harm anyone with a pair of nail clippers, even if somebody sat patiently while another person tried. If nail clippers are weapons, what about thumbtacks, needles from sewing class, forks, and even spoons? A Bethel student was once stabbed with a pencil. Almost anything can be a weapon if one wants it to be. Does that mean that I should be expelled for using a stapler? Recently, fatal school shootings have speckled the news with violent images and caused abundant paranoia about the safety of America's schools. Yes, it is something to worry about, but zero-tolerance makes it too easy to go too far.

The success of zero-tolerance depends almost entirely on the consistency of the policy. In many situations, a school claims to have zero-tolerance, but hypocritically doesn't enforce the policy when tested. Sometimes zero-tolerance doesn't apply to certain people. A woman in Bay County claimed, after her son was expelled, that black students are more likely than white students to be expelled for the same offense, even under the precedence of zero-tolerance. She also believes that an athlete is somewhat shielded from zero-tolerance. "There was a football player caught with marijuana, and he was given in-house suspension. Another had a fifth of liquor on a football trip and was suspended in-house, ask them about (a particular student) who had drug charges reduced to a misdemeanor... so he could stay on the football team,"she said. A football player in another county said, "If a football player gets caught by his coach, it's like being caught by a friend. It's 'Oh, coach, help me out,' but if they wasn't a football player or star athlete, they wouldn't get the same treatment. They'd be outta there." Most schools also consider the academic and behavioral histories of students before they implementzero-tolerance". This is not, of course, zero-tolerance at all. It is saying "Let us decide whether we want to use zero-tolerance this time." That sets a bad example for the students. The schools shouldn't act like hypocrites, or playfavorites with the students. Onething most people don't understand is, "What is zero-tolerance?" This is because most zero-tolerance policies have complicated exceptions, such as: A student can "be readmitted to school depending on the severity of the infractions, the student's attitude while expelled, and satisfactory completion of an expulsion contract." or "in the case that it is the student's first offense for the possession of not more then one ounce of marijuana, other than concentrated cannabis." automatic expulsion does not apply. If people don't understand what automatic expulsion and zero-tolerance are, it is hard to use them consistently, correctly, and fairly.

Russ Skiba (director of the Institute for Child Study at Indiana University) and Reece Peterson (president of the National Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders) argue the "zero-tolerance policies are causing a near epidemic of 44 suspensions and expulsions." Expelling problem children isn't helping them. They need counseling. Expelling them sends them out into the world, where they can just cause more trouble. "When you kick a kid out of school, they are not learning, they are going home, usually to an empty house. You have no way of being sure that you have made the community even safer," says Nancy Riestenberg, a violence-prevention specialist with Minnesota's Department of Children, Families, and Learning. It is hardto find a balance between keeping schools safe, and helping the kids that need help most of all.

Zero-tolerance usually means automatic expulsion in cases of drug and weapon possession, and acts of violence. Connecticut is tom over how to accommodate all of its children fairly and safely after hearing of terrifying school shootings on the news. However, zero-tolerance laws are not the answer. Each situation needs to be looked over carefully for the solution that is the most beneficial to all of the parties involved. Zero-tolerance gives schools the opportunity to go overboard on what is a weapon.Also, some schools don'talways stick to the policy by playing favorites with the students. Furthermore, it is usually not the best solution for the student to be expelled. Admittedly, zero-tolerance is the easiest way to run our schools, but what is the best way?

Lauren Colello
School: Griswold Middle School
Age: 13
Teacher: Mr. Rubasky

Isautomatic expulsiona fair and effecfive penalty for acts of violence, possession of weapons, or other violations of school policy? Explain.

Automatic expulsion is not always a fair and effective penalty for acts of violence, possession of weapons, or other violations of school policy. A fair penalty means that the punishment fits the crime. An effective penalty means that the punishment prevents the doing of the crime by the rule-breaker or others in the future, and protects students.

Whether automatic expulsion is or is not a fair and effecfive penalty depends on the circumstances. Many violations of school policy are intentional. For instance, there have been many school shootings all over the country. in these situations, a student or group of students will bring guns to school, and suddenly start a massacre at school, either shooting people marked on a hit list, or firing randomly to kill as many unsuspecting people as possible. There have been other cases where students plan on hurting one of their peers, so they bring other weapons to school. Sometimes, students get rowdy, and get into a physical fights with others. These students need to learn to control their tempers. These students could hurt themselves, someone else involved in the fight, or innocent bystanders not involved at all in all of these situations. I believe the student should receive immediate expulsion. This punishment will probably teach the student that what he or she did was wrong. It is fair to do this, because physically harming somebody, or attempting to, is a serious act that justifies a serious penalty. It is effective because it protects innocent students by removing the bad student. Also, this penalty is so severe, that other students will think twice before doing the same thing themselves.

However, there are cases in which it is not fair to enforce automatic expulsion. A very honest student several years ago was also a Boy Scout. One night, he needed a pocket knife for a project he was doing with his troop. He had used his knife, then stuck it in his pocket. That night, he left his pants lying on the floor. The next day, the boy grabbed the same pants he had worn the day before, and wore them that day. When he got to school, he reached into his pocket for something, and realized he had the knife in there from last night. The boy thought he was doing the right thing by going to a teacher and giving the teacher the knife, while explaining the whole story. However, the boy was expelled for this. I do not think automatic expulsion is fair or effecfive in this situation. It was not fair because the act was unintentional and an honest mistake. The penalty was much too severe. it was not effective because the boy would not have considered the penalty since he had not intended to do the act. Also, this penalty teaches the boy that honesty does not pay.Another example where automatic expulsion is not jusfified could be where two students start a fight, and drag another student into it by ganging up on this person, even though this third student did not want to be involved. It would not be fair if this other student was expelled, because he or she would not have started the fight or tried to continue it.

Therefore, we are left with the question: What should we do instead? I think different punishments should be issued. For example, the boy who brought the knife to school accidentally should not have been expelled. He was being honest by giving it to a teacher right away, and I do not think he was wrong in anything he did. Maybe he should have been reminded to be a little more careful next time, but he should not have been punished. Also, a student who accidentally breaks a rule or brings a weapon to school and who gets expelled for it might react violently and feel hatred towards the school for expelling him or her, instead of being sorry for what he or she did wrong.

In conclusion, automatic expulsion is not always fair and effective. I think the circumstances of rule-breaking situations should really be considered, and then a punishment best suited to the incident should be issued.

Tony Casubolo
School: All Saints Catholic School
Age: 13
Teacher: Mr. Mike Deal

"A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither." Perhaps Thomas Jefferson's statement did not apply to the society of the late 1700s but was a mere prediction of the society that was yet to come. Surely, the school board's automatic expulsion policy is a direct example of the society Jefferson describes.

Many schools across the nation have taken a very extreme "no judgment required" position relative to the original concepts of "zero tolerance" expulsion. This policy of mandatory expulsion no matter how minor the infraction should more accurately be called "One strike and you're out". While the school board feel that this new concept will help to reduce acts of violence and other violations of school policy, child behavior specialists argue that there needs to be leaming with punishment and that rehabilitation must be the primary goal.

One incident that suggests the downside of the "zero tolerance" expulsion policy is featured at http://www.tso4u.com/lphs expel/. This site details the story of a group of students that were expelled for having sampled a small amount of alcohol in a motel room in Greeley, Colorado. The students were not intoxicated and were not caught. The students turned themselves in, expecting to face a 3-day suspension but instead were expelled. Although the students had no previous record of discipline problems, the school board voted for their expulsion.

Another, more startling incident that reflects the cons to automatic expulsion is featured athttp://www.seattle-times.com/news/. This article focuses on the expulsion of an 11-year-old Whitman Middle School student after a toy squirt gun was found in his backpack.

The expulsion of Brian Wood has also made waves with the "zero tolerance" expulsion policy. "Brian Wood did what any honest kid would when his class entered the county jail on a field trip. He handed over his small pocket knife to a deputy and wound up expelled from school for violating its weapons policy, " read the article Knife Expulsion Goes to Supreme Court at http://www.veneration-y.com/stories/.

The "zero tolerance" expulsion policy instituted in many schools across the nation is a direct violation of the 4h Amendment, which clearly states the right of US citizens to "a speedy trial by jury". Many officials believe that automatic expulsion is wrong without a fair trial. State Senator of Illinois Barack Obama claims that state law should require that alternative education programs be explored before automatic expulsion. He is quoted in Herald's Review, Springfield, Illinois saying, "Oneof the most difficult things we as a society have to decide is how we deal with the people who have engaged in antisocial behavior. If we simply throw them out ... we can anticipate that over time a good number of those people will end up in the prison system."

Perhaps State Senator Obama is a little extreme in his news releases calling for changes to school expulsion but the overall affect is clear. To the extent that the school board is dealing with nonviolent offenders or students that haven't struck teachers or used weapons, it is clear that these students are no threat to the safety of the school faculty, or anyone else. Stricter policies and tighter security may seem a rational reaction for a nation shell-shocked by the school shootings in Littleton, Colorado, but the new "zero tolerance" policy has thus far proven ineffective. Violence prevention specialist, Nancy Riestenberg says, "When you kick a kid out of school they are not learning. They are going home, usually to an empty house. You have no way of being sure that you have made the community even safer." It must be assumed that children will always do bad things but the student mustn't be destroyed or have his education taken away. In the case of the 11 year-old Whitman Middle School student expelled for a toy gun, what is society teaching this young boy about violence. What is the world coming to that society will trade a lifetime of education for a squirt gun? Perhaps society should not attack the students that attend school to learn but should instead lecture the parents that pay no attention to there children's behavior.

Caitlin LaCroix
School: All Saints Catholic School
Age: 14
Teacher: Mr. Deal

Is automatic expulsion a fair and effective penalty for acts of violence, possession of weapons or other violations of school policy? Should children who have substance and behavioral problems be automatically expelled? These questions are being pondered by educators, school administrators and governmental officials nationwide. Some argue that after the recent school shootings all students who bring in any weapons, whether toys or not, or display violent or antisocial behavior should be automatically expelled. This is called the zero tolerance policy. Other people, such as Illinois Senator Barack O'Bama contend that if we throw kids out of school system we can anticipate that over time a good number of those children will end up in our prison system. "State law should put (those) students into other educational programs" he added.

Instead of automatically expelling students they should be sent to an education center designed specially for that purpose. The students there would be taught proper study skills and take classes on drug abuse and its effect on the body as well as a class on aggression and anger management. This would help students learn not only why they were taken out of public schools but also how to correct their behavior. These schools would also help the children become concerned for their community, others and the environment by making a set standard of community service hours done by the student.

It is my opinion that the strict zero tolerance policy may sometimes be used by overworked administrators to expel students who may not be guilty of a serious crime or may only need guidance and a second chance. Special education centers could help teach hundreds of troubled kids to be confident and respectful to both themselves and others while also instilling proper study habits.

All people deserve a second chance including children. Using alternative educational programs would not only help the troubled children but the community and school system as well. It could provide the community with better prepared and more respectful young people than an expulsion would.

Julie Flynn
School: Henry James Memorial School
Age: 14
Teacher: Ms. O'Neil

Zero tolerance policies are being adopted in schools all over the country. Zero tolerance sound tough and effective, but what does it really accomplish? Zero tolerance means there is no excuse for violating school policy, but in my opinion creates a situation where there is no margin for error. This system is so black and white, school administrators loose control, and cannot look at each individual incident. School is a place of growth and learning, not a place of automatic expulsion for the possession of Tylenol. It is great that school systems feel such a drive to provide safe leaming environments, but strict zero tolerance may not be the answer.

Zero tolerance often results in unfair punishment of students who break the rules. For example, in Longmont Colorado, ten year old Shanon Cosiet was given a knife in her lunch box, in order to cut her apple. She was expelled for possession of a weapon, despite the fact that she turned the knife in to a teacher when she realized it might violate school policy. Under her school's Zero Tolerance system, the reason for her possession, what she intended to do with her weapon," the fact that Shanon's mother packed the bag, and her wise decision to turn it in, were not taken into consideration. Obviously she had no intention of hurting anyone, since she turned it in to a teacher. This poor, innocent, young girl has been punished severely for her mistake. Isn't that what childhood is all about, learning from mistakes in a constructive environment? It is not fair to expel her for such a minor offense. In another incident, Lisa Smith of Dallas was expelled for her first offense of bringing a soda and alcohol mixture to school. Until that day, Lisa was a model student. She was a student council member, a cheerleader, devoted orchestra member, and had won various awards in science. She made a mistake, and brought alcohol to school, and should have been punished. However, because of the zero tolerance plan, she was immediately expelled, and faced with five months in a military style boot camp. All she had worked for, the grades, the awards, was destroyed by this severe punishment. Under zero tolerance, there is no room for the silly mistakes, and acts of rebellion, that adolescents often make. Schools have expelled students for possession of Tylenol, Midol, cough drops, and mouth wash, since they violate the more rigid anti-drug rules. Next Halloween, will costumes that have paper swords, fake spiked knuckles, or toy guns, can soon lead to expulsion for violation of anti-weapon policies? Without consideration for each individual incident, things get way out of hand.

Not only are zero tolerance policies unfair, they are also not very effective. I believe that there are more constructive methods of punishment, such as peer judges, community service, community panels, or intensive supervision. When you automatically expel a student, you are taking them out of school, and putting them into more dangerous situations. Keeping students in school is important in keeping them away from juvenile justice systems, and rough street life. People who violate drug and weapon rules need a chance to change their behavior, and extreme punishments associated with zero tolerance often do not allow for this improvement.

Ironically, the most serious school violence crimes that come to my mind could not have been stopped by zero tolerance systems. Take the Columbine school shooting for instance. I really wonder weather or not a "zero tolerance policy" would have changed the minds of the two boys who opened fire on their classmates.

The solution is not zero tolerance for possession of weapons or drugs, but itopping problems before they happen. If the two shooters were recognized as dangerous and mentally unstable earlier in their school career, they could have been helped. If the reason's for possession of drugs and weapons is not taken into consideration, than students who accidentally break the rules (by bringing a knife in their lunch) and students who are a serious threat to themselves and those around them, are all put in the same boat. This denies students who need individual attention the help they need, and punishes students who had no intention of hurting anyone. Zero tolerance does not bend to the needs of each student who violates school rules. Simply kicking a kid out of school will not solve anyone's problem.

When I hear the word "zero" I think nothing, or none. When I hear the word "tolerance" I think of forgiveness, acceptance and understanding. Tolerance is a good thing; we need more of it. In order to stop violent crimes in schools it would be wise to teach students to work out conflicts in a constructive manner, and tolerate others who they may not like, instead of waiting for them to mess up and kick them out of school. Everyone is different, and everyone has different reasons for making mistakes. School administrators must consider the needs of each student when dealing with possible dangerous situations. No one should be allowed to bring weapons to school, but the punishment must fit the crime.

Elise Schmidt
School: Henry James Middle
Age: 14
Teacher: Ms. O'Neil

Is the zero tolerance policy a fair and effective way to help stop violence and inappropriate behavior in schools? I do not believe that it is. Zero tolerance means that there is no leeway, no room to make a mistake or pass a fair judgment. How can you determine a fair punishment if authorities have no ability to judge? Is there a difference between the girl whose mom packed her a butter knife in her lunch and the girl who threatened a teacher with a twelve inch blade? With zero tolerance, how can we determine that?

The concept of zero tolerance came into being around the 1980's war against drugs, according to the April edition of Education Digest. It described harsh punishments with little or no regard to the severity of the crime committed. About six years ago, in 1994, this concept came to Simsbury, and it's surrounding neighbors. In a 1997 national survey we can see that 79% of schools have a zero tolerance policy for violence, 79% for tobacco, 87% for alcohol 88% for drugs, 91% for weapons other than firearms and 94% have a zero tolerance policy for firearms. This means that if someone is being beaten up in the hallway and there is no teacher around and you step in to help the person who is in trouble, you will be in as much trouble as the person who started the fight. Even the person who was beaten up would be in trouble.

The real problem is that this policy is not effective. Zero tolerance offenses rose from

522 in 1993-94 to 2,365 in 1996-97. The problem in this is that this policy is keeping students

out of school instead of in it, where they belong. Most students who are expelled, are

generally repeat offenders, but one out of three students who are expelled do not return

to school. Students should be made to do community service or given internal suspension, so that not only will they not fall too far behind their classmates, they will also be kept off the streets or from doing any more harm.

What should be the new policy then? I believe that principals, parents and the town's board of education should meet, discuss the crime, and decide on a fair punishment. When a crime is committed the student should have internal suspension until this hearing. Crimes should be judged on their severity, intention of the student who committed the crime, and the students past history. Expulsion should be decided on in a case by case basis. Local school board are being encouraged to adopt their own policies, I believe that this should be ours.

Jake Pawlowski
School: Henry James Middle School
Age: 13
Teacher: Ms. O'Neil

As the zero tolerance policy campaign gains power in school boards across the nation, members of the community begin to ask themselves one question: Does zero tolerance make zero sense? And for many, the answer is yes. Everyone agrees that a school should be an orderly, safe environment for learning not a place for drugs or weapons, but school boards have to be reasonable in the way they go about ensuring safety inside the school.

The zero tolerance policy was developed to keep drugs and weapons out of school, but instead are keeping students out of school. Further evidence of the unreasonable, unfair, and ineffective tactics used by school systems to keep violence out of schools is illustrated by these actual examples of the narrow-minded zero tolerance policy.

* An 8-year-old girl in Alexandria, Louisiana, was expelled from school in February, 1997 for bringing her grandfather's pocket watch that had a small knife attached to the chain of the watch, a violation of the school's zero tolerance policy.

* A high school student who was always well-behaved and a good student, was found carrying a small pocket knife he was using to open packages at his after-school job. He was quickly expelled from school under the school's zero tolerance policy.

* A middle school student who shared an inhaler with a friend who was having a life threatening asthma attack. Although the girl was credited with saving her friend's life she was suspended for violating the school's zero tolerance drug policy.

* A grade school boy in Columbia, South Carolina had just gotten braces and his teeth were sore. For lunch the next day, his mother packed him a banana with a butter knife to cut it. The boy was suspended for having a weapon.

Although the zero tolerance policies are discouraging students from bringing to school even the slightest object which could be considered a weapon, it gives principals and other authority figures no chance to use their common sense, or adjust the punishment under specific circumstances'

As Amendment Eight of our constitution states, the punishment must fit the crime. And here, in a nation where the Constitution is the highest law in the land, how can a grade school boy receive the same punishment for having a butter knife to cut his banana at lunch, as a middle school boy who comes to school with a switchblade? Zero tolerance just doesn't cut it as the answer to the violence problems facing this country.

Kristen Ward
School: Henry James Memorial School
Age: 14
Teacher: Ms. O'Neil

Earlier this year, a fifth grade girl in Colorado accidentally swapped lunches uith her mother. Her mom, being an adult, packed a knife to cut her chicken with. Once at school the girl noticed her mistake, and turned the knife in. Yet it was too late. The child was immediately suspended for carrying a weapon to school.

The goal of zero tolerance is to be strong and effective. But when does strong and effective become overboard? This question is what many are debating: Is the zero tolerance policy the correct way to treat cases regarding drugs, weapons, or anything else that threatens the students and faculty? Through this policy, students found with any type of weapon, possession or distribution of any drugs, smoking, or violating any other offenses that fall under the school zero tolerance regulations will result in an automatic ten-day suspension. Then there is a hearing before the school board, where they can expel you for an additional one to one hundred and seventy days. Generally speaking, school boards are harsh when deciding student punishment. Some students and adults feel that this rule is effective in keeping the children and adults at the school safe. I personally believe that this policy is too harsh and inflexible for schools. Many disagree, using the recent occurrences of violence in schools to back their opinions. They have a right to be concerned about the safety of their children and everyone else. I am concemed for the safety of children and adults nationwide. But how many innocent children made a mistake and are now suffering because we are taking so many precautions at keeping schools safe?

Automatic expulsion has appeared to be a satisfactory but extremely unfair form of punishment for the children in America's schools today. Many parents tend to agree; since the incident at Columbine High School where fifteen students died, 45 complaints that students are being excessively punished have been received at the Cleveland office of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Throughout the country hundreds more complaints have been sent to the other offices of ACLU. These parents are people whose children would be effected by this policy. I agree will these protesting parents. Schools should be a safe environment for children to grow in. Yet some children are only getting the minimal education because of an innocent mistake. I believe this is why the zero tolerance policy should be changed. Humans aren't perfect. We make mistakes. Children shouldn't be deprived of an education because of these mistakes. Yes, they should learn from them. They should be more careful in the future and learn to be more aware of the consequences of their actions. But for a mistake a child doesn't need any more punishment. The zero tolerance policy is also much too inflexible to be used in schools. Our United States Supreme Court Justice System isn't cut and dry. There are actions. and there are consequences but the other factors are considered before a decision is reached. Students have reasons for bringing dangerous objects to school or violating another school rule. They deserve the same justice and treatment as everyone else.

I believe the appropriate solution to this issue is to have the punishment be determined on a case-to-case basis. Expulsion is a fair and effective thepunishment for certain crimes. However, in many of the cases that have been treated this way, punishment was unnecessarily severe. In theexample I stated at the beginning, the child had no intention of harming anyone. She brought the wrong lunch by accident and then immediately turned herself in. But school officials took no chances in "looking out for the safety of others" even though no one else was in danger. They went a little too far in looking out for others because now an innocent child is forced to give up a year of her valuable education. Instead of stating a zero tolerance rule, schools should state what theydo not tolerate and punishments for the worst case circumstances. Then students are aware of the consequences for their actions but in the event of an accident or misunderstanding, there is still room for some discretion. Students and families then have the opportunity to explain the situation and hope the schools are fair enough to use some discretion if necessary . One goal of thezero tolerance policy is to scare children out of violating school rules. Most children who deliberately violate the rules don't care enough about the consequences. Those kids, like theones at Columbine, need more help than just expulsion. Hopefully, without harming anyone, thestudents can get the help they need. A case-by-case review will prevent many students from being expelled and stillkeep theschool safe.

"When did using your judgement go out of style?", asks Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun Times in his powerful article opposing zero tolerance. He has a solid point, the zero tolerance policy takes away any judgement that educators and school officials could make. People are trying to prevent the incredible evils that occurred in Arkansas and Colorado but in the process, they are going way too far in punishing other children who don't deserve it. After those incidents, parents and others have extremely good reasons fbr wanting to keep their schools safe. I am a complete supporter of safe schools, but zero tolerance is too far. Schools should take great lengths to prevent any incidents. They should try their hardest to keep their schools as safe as can be. I support their actions to keep safety in schools but I believe zero tolerance takes the actions beyond necessary and therefore jeopardizes the rights of the students while trying to protect them.