Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Minnesota student beats expulsion... sort of

Following up on last Thursday's post about Tony Richard, the kid from Blaine, Minnesota who works as a stockboy at the local grocery (in which capacity he uses a box cutter) and who was suspended from school and threatened with expulsion under the school's "zero tolerance" weapons policy when said box cutter was observed, in plain sight, in the car he uses to drive to school and work:

Terry Collins reports in today's Minneapolis Star-Tribune that the Anoka-Hennepin school board voted 5-1 not to accept the administration's recommendation that young Mr. Richard be expelled.

Collins writes, "The case illustrates the dilemma school administrators nationwide face in enforcing zero-tolerance weapons policies, many of which were instituted in the aftermath of widely publicized school shootings across the country. If school officials choose not to punish a student who has brought a weapon to school after ruling that there was no ill intent, they may open the door to others to do the same, but with more malevolent intent."

With respect to Mr. Collins, this case illustrates no such thing. The demons that animate a school shooter do not spring into existence because some other kid got away with having a box cutter or a pen knife in his car in the school parking lot. (Young Mr. Richard was never accused of trying to bring the box cutter into the school building.)

A tragedy today in Finland may illustrate this point. According to Jussi Mustikkamaa's report for the AP, printed earlier today on the Chicago Tribune website, the masked gunman who opened fire at the Kauhajoki School of Hospitality, killing 10 and, ultimately, himself, posted as many as four violent videos on YouTube in which he discharged a handgun. In one he said, "Whole life is war and whole life is pain. And you will fight alone in your personal war." In another, the shooter allegedly pointed a gun at a camera and said, "You will die next," squeezing off four rounds to drive the point home.

In contrast, Mr. Richard, the kid from Minnesota, had a disciplinary record that consisted of a few tardies.

When school shooting tragedies do occur, we too often find out (and always too late) that the author of the tragedy left warning signs... possibly even cries for help. School administrators have to learn how to evaluate risks and make distinctions... and hear those cries for help before disaster strikes. Making up rigid "zero tolerance" policies is simply an insufficient response.

And while a local resident was quoted in Collins' article today as calling the Minnesota school board's vote a victory for "common sense," that point is debatable. Rather than admit to a gross overreaction, the school authorities have instead placed Richard on "probation" until November 10. Moreover, writes Collins, in a neat bit of bureaucratic fudging, school officials said that "technically, the punishment will be considered an expulsion for the purposes of record-keeping."

So the Blaine High School administrators don't care what the school board says: As far as they're concerned, even if young Mr. Richard is in the building, he's still expelled. Maybe they won't talk to the kid if they see him in the hall.

1 comment:

John said...

When I used to drive to school, I couldn't afford the parking passes my school was charging, so therefore I had to park off campus. Doing so literally saved my academic career. Wal-Mart had a sale on machetes for a grand total of $7. Being the irresponsible teen most tend to be, I bought one thinking "oh, how cool", never to actually use it. I think I ended up throwing it away after a couple months. Anyways, there was a time when I had the machete in my car, off campus, and I told one of my friends about. Well, one of my teachers over heard me and all hell broke loose. But because my car was off campus, literally 2 blocks away from school, there wasn't anything they could do, not like I was planning on using it anyways.

Just thought I'd share that. Oh yeah, and I went to high school in Minnesota too, less than 5 years ago.