Outrage(s) of the Week

Posted on October 4, 2013

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Regular readers know that we report with great frequency on a veritable parade of ridiculous cases involving over-zealous school officials and their over-the-top enforcement of "zero-tolerance" rules.  Well, here we go again. 

This week, we have not one, but four outrageous incidents of ridiculously enforced zero-tolerance policies to report.  So, depending on your perspective, either the bar you hoped would not go any lower has dropped yet another peg, or--alternatively--the "asinine enforcement index" has now reached a new high.

Our first case involves a California high school student who was confronted by Canyon High School officials and told to change her NRA T-shirt because the officials deemed the shirt a violation the school's dress code, which forbids offensive, violent or divisive clothing.

According to a CBS Los Angeles story, Sophomore Haley Bullwinkle wore her NRA shirt to school last month, and ended up in the principal's office.  "They were treating me like I was a criminal," she said, noting that school officials would not allow her to wear the shirt "because it promoted gun violence."

The NRA shirt was given to her by her father and features images of a deer, the American flag and the silhouette of a hunter.  Written on the shirt are the words "National Rifle Association of America: Protecting America's Traditions Since 1871."

According to a Los Angeles Times article, when Haley's parents wrote to the school's principal, suggesting that administrators had infringed on their daughter's constitutional rights, Principal Kimberly Fricker responded by sending the parents the school's policy on clothing that "depicts violence."

According to the policy, that includes " anything that is divisive or offensive to a staff member."  It also states: "The administration reserves the right to restrict any clothing or accessories that in our judgment detracts from the educational environment of Canyon High School."

Civil rights attorney Chuck Michel, who has been working with the Bullwinkle family on the case, said, "If they're going to try to characterize this shirt as depicting violence, then this policy is overboard.  School officials can't write themselves a policy that gives them unfettered discretion."

The Orange Unified School District apparently agrees, as they have subsequently released a statement saying that Principal Fricker has now concluded that the shirt didn't promote violence, and that Haley "will be permitted to wear the shirt."  (Please see our related story here.)

The article also noted that this was not the first time Bullwinkle has worn the shirt to school.  Michel said he's not sure why the shirt caught school administrator's attention this time, but believes it may be connected to the national debate on gun rights.

In the second case, 12-year-old Joseph Lyssikatos of Coventry, Rhode Island, was suspended from Shawn Feinstein Middle School for three days, and forced to miss testing for his advanced math class, after violating the school's "anti-weapons policy."   According to a New York Daily News article, his "weapon" was a toy key chain--slightly larger than a quarter--that was shaped like a gun.  The seventh grader had won the key chain at an arcade.  Unfortunately for him, the dangerous "weapon" fell out of his back pack and was picked up by a classmate who showed it to others.    

Joseph was also banned from a school trip at the end of the month.  The classmate who displayed the key chain after it fell out of Joseph's backpack received no disciplinary action.

As reported in the Daily Caller, our third case involves a Cobb County, Georgia high school senior who faces felony weapons charges for bringing fishing gear to school.  Not in school; to school.  More specifically, in a tackle box, in his car, in the parking lot.

Cody Chitwood, an avid fisherman and 17-year-old student at Lassiter High School, was charged with the felony of bringing weapons into a school zone after police found fishing knives in a tackle box in his car.  Police found the fishing knives while performing a random sweep of cars in the parking lot.

According to the article, if the district attorney decides to prosecute, Chitwood could face 2-10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

"It's pretty ridiculous," said Chitwood.  "I have an attorney and I'm hoping to get the felony dropped so I can still get in the Air Force."

Our final case (for now) involves an 8-year-old Florida boy who was suspended from school for using his finger as a pretend gun while playing with his friends. 

According to a Fox News article, Jordan Bennett was suspended for a day after administrators at Harmony Community School said the hand gesture was an act of violence.

The article reports that Jordan's mother is concerned that the suspension and disciplinary record may cause her son to be unfairly labeled as violent.

"He had nothing in his hand.  It was a finger gun, a pretend gun," Bonnie Bennett said. "He didn't threaten violence.  He didn't utter words that were inappropriate.  He made a sound and used his fingers and that was it."

Reportedly, school district officials said their code of conduct prohibits students from playing with "invisible" guns.   

These four cases--and there will be more--serve as the latest reminder of the pitfalls encountered when "zero-tolerance" rules are applied without exercising sound judgment or basic common sense.  As we note time after time, all of us agree that we want our children to be safe at school, and that reasonable safety measures should be followed.  But this continued unreasonable, zero-common-sense enforcement of "zero tolerance" policies not only encroaches on our freedom, but places an extreme and unfair burden on innocent children and their families.  It also undermines the authority of school personnel by making them appear arbitrary and persecutory.  It is truly outrageous, and needs to stop.

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