Tuesday, September 04, 2007

More Zero-Tolerance Lunacy?

When I was a boy, many of us would draw pictures featuring soldiers, cowboys, Indians, and even cops and robbers.

Many of these sketches featured characters using weapons ranging from pistols and sub-machine guns to aircraft dropping atomic bombs on a well-deserving enemy.

To us, it was normal.

But things have changed.

Apparently, boys drawing guns
are no longer considered "normal" behavior in Arizona's Chandler Junior High School:
After an eighth-grader was suspended for drawing a picture of a gun on an assignment paper, angry parents are questioning whether the Chandler Unified School District went too far with its zero-tolerance policy.

The Payne Junior High eighth-grader, along with another student, was suspended Monday for five days for the drawing. Parents Paula and Ben Mosteller were able to get the suspension reduced to three days after meeting with school officials.

The uproar over the drawing, which the student turned in with a school assignment and contended was just a doodle, cuts to the question of what constitutes a "threat."

Craig Gilbert, Chandler director of secondary education, said there is a range of punishment that administrators can hand down for "implied threats," ranging from a parent conference to suspension and expulsion.

"(School administrators) would determine what the situation is and the consequence," Gilbert said.

He confirmed that a second student also was suspended in connection with the incident but would not go into detail because of student-privacy laws.

Paula Mosteller told the Associated Press she could not believe her son received a suspension for a drawing: "I just can't believe that there wasn't another way to resolve this."

Several parents at the school, which includes students from Chandler, Gilbert and Queen Creek, were surprised to hear about the suspension Tuesday.

"I understand the zero-tolerance policy, but this is taking it a little too far. It's just a drawing. My daughter draws," Rob DeMarco of Gilbert said about his seventh-grader.

Susan Rethoret of Queen Creek agreed: "They overreacted."

But Tom Hendrickson of Chandler said the suspension was warranted because of increased concern these days over school security.

Parents can appeal a suspension of 10 days or more to a district hearing officer, said district spokesman Terry Locke, but for anything less, the school principal has the final word.

Payne Principal Karen Martin did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The public often does not have access to the full story when it comes to student discipline because of privacy laws. School officials have put the sketch in question into the student's file, which is not open to the public. And because school officials did not call the police, there is no public police record.

The Payne Junior High Student Handbook states that "possession or threatening use of any weapon, real or simulated, is strictly prohibited." Punishment includes "conference, expulsion, mandatory police report."

The district would not elaborate on how the policy was applied in this case.

"Federal privacy laws forbid discussing student discipline," Locke said.

The Mostellers, however, said they plan to take the issue before the Chandler governing board, which has a public meeting Aug. 29.

In the past, board members have overruled disciplinary decisions that involved suspensions of more than 10 days, board member Annette Auxier said.

"We're more than glad to listen to them," Auxier said. "It has happened in past, three or four incidents when parents were displeased. It wouldn't be the first."

There are 985 students in Grades 6-8 at Payne Junior High, a Chandler Unified school in Queen Creek. Earlier this month, Martin sent a letter home to parents about an unrelated incident involving a student having a gun, which police investigated and found to be false.
As of this writing, there's been no further news as to whether or not the board has reversed the suspension.

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