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Little Zachary back in school; DE zero tolerance policies debated.

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009



Zachary Christie will be allowed to go back to his classmates at the Downes elementary school in the Christina School District.  The school voted that its zero tolerance policy was too much in this case.  Now comes the debate on how much tolerance one should have when a wrong has been committed in school. 

So, it’s back to the drawing board for Delaware’s “zero-tolerance” policy in schools after all the attention given  the 6 year old boy from the Christina School District who was suspended from his school after bringing in a camping utensil to school.  The combination fork-spoon-and-knife was considered by school officials to be a forbidden “dangerous instrument.”  The national attention the case has received may result in the policy being changed by state lawmakers.

Support for Zachary Christie came from around the country with at least three Facebook groups created over the last few  days to fight the school district’s suspension.  In addition to the suspension, Christie also faced 45 days in an alternative school as punishment.  That’s where the fire storm of criticism erupted. It’s not Delaware’s first experience with zero-tolerance punishment’s having unintended consequences.  Earlier this year, a Delaware fifth grader was nearly expelled from her Newark school for bringing in a knife to school so she could cut cake slices for her classmates.  Now,  State Representative Terry Schooley to sponsor a bill that giving schools leeway in enforcing “zero-tolerance” expulsion policies for weapons at school.  That doesn’t help Zachary, who was not expelled, only “suspended” for bringing his combo camping tool to school.  Schooley now plans on tweaking her legislation, “So that school districts have more discretion and can look use mitigating circumstances like a child’s age, or intent, or is there past disciplinary problems, really look at the whole range of what’s going on with a child.”

From the New York Times to cable news networks, the attention given to Zachary’s suspension from school will likely help Schooley’s new legislation get quick action when state lawmakers reconvene in January.  She says zero tolerance policies do not help keep schools safe.  “They do all the opposite things.  They tend to target minority kids and special ed. kids more of those kids are suspended.  That’s not what we expected to happen.”  She says schools need to focus on preventing violence, rather than punishing students under zero tolerance.


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