Delaware softens ‘zero-tolerance’ policy for weapons at school

Students caught with weapons other than a gun at Delaware schools won’t automatically face being expelled under a bill signed into law Friday afternoon.

In 2015, Patrick Wahl’s son was found with two credit card knives in his backpack. Brandywine School District leaders suspended the boy for five days under the state’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policy. Wahl sued the school district and settled earlier this year for $60,000.

“I think exclusionary disciplines- out of school suspensions and expulsions- are best reserved for violent and repeat offenders and not for every unintentional childish mistake,” Wahl said.

In addition to suing the district, Wahl also lobbied state Rep. Deborah Hudson, R- Hockessin, to change state law to give school district’s more leeway when it comes to doling out discipline. That effort led Hudson to introduce legislation that Gov. John Carney, D-Delaware, signed Friday afternoon. “Discipline is very important … but I’ve learned that it’s important to have some opportunity for compromise and I think that’s what this bill does,” Hudson said.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“I think it’s a great day for Delaware students, parents, teachers, administrators and alike,” Wahl said just before the bill was signed.

The bill was overwhelmingly approved by the state House and Senate on July 2, a day lawmakers were still in session only because of their failure to approve a state budget by the June 30 deadline. In addition to broad support in the General Assembly, state police school resource officers, especially in Sussex County, backed the bill too.

“Some of our SRO’s downstate gave an example of a lot of their students like to go hunting, and they may go hunting in the morning and drive to school in time for first period and may have a hunting knife locked in their truck,” said State Police Cpt. Pete Sawyer. “Under the old way, they faced a lengthy suspension. Now there’s some more discretion and we’re happy to see that.”

The move toward leniency will only be applied to weapons other than guns.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal