Another example of zero-tolerance critique has cropped up in the news this week. A first-grader in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was suspended for pointing his fingers in the shape of a gun at another student.
Six-year-old Elijah Thurston said “bang, bang” at the other child as he made the gesture.
In a climate where school shootings are becoming all too normal, the school’s reaction to suspend the young boy for a day may not seem too harsh. But consider that even just 10 years ago such an act would have been considered innocent child’s play and you’re looking at an entire argument.
The boy’s father told an ABC affiliate in Colorado the boy was just playing.
“What 6-year-old doesn’t play cops and robbers,” he said during an interview with the station.
The little boy was coloring at a table while his father spoke. His chubby cheeks and long eyelashes portrayed a boy barely out of diapers, not one who presented a threat to anyone.
“He knows the difference between really doing that and just putting your finger up,” Elijah’s dad said. “We make sure he knows the severity of what he said.”
The boy’s parents are also making him write an apology letter.
The school suspended Elijah based on its zero-tolerance policy as it pertains to threats of violence. School districts nationwide have adopted such rules that allow little, if any, wiggle room for consideration.
Cases like Elijah’s have continued to raise doubt over whether such stringent rules are appropriate. They leave no room for educators to take into consideration a child’s age or other contributing circumstances.
Locally in 2013 a student at Bartow High School was arrested and suspended for 10-days after blowing up a water bottle by mixing chemicals. Kiera Wilmot, a junior at the time of the incident, said she was doing a science experiment involving a volcano when the explosion occurred. No one was hurt in the accident, but Wilmot faced an uphill battle finishing high school and getting into college after the fact.
Another high school freshman in Detroit, Kyle Thompson, was arrested and expelled from all public schools in Michigan for one year after a misunderstanding with a teacher that led to the teen and his teacher tugging back and forth on a piece of paper.
Student eyewitnesses in that case confirmed that it was all just an accident – people were even laughing including the teacher. But the school’s hands were tied because of zero-tolerance.
The ACLU took his side and circulated a petition that gained more than 12,000 signatures.
“Zero-tolerance laws criminalize young students for minor infractions that should be dealt with internally by schools,” the petition reads. “Reform zero-tolerance laws now so that our kids are put on a path to success rather than a path to prison.”