No-Tolerance in Spotsylvania:Preventing the Next Columbine Spit-Ball Massacre

The parade of bizarre and cruel “no-tolerance” decisions continues unabated, proving that the learning curve for far too many school boards and school officials is far flatter than those of their most academically inept students. Neither national embarrassment nor the prospect of cruel and unjust treatment of normal, unthreatening students will sway these unethical martinets from their chosen, cowardly, self-righteous paths, as they inflict permanent scar  on the educational experience of innocent young people to prevent a future disaster unrelated to anything the children did.

The no-tolerance disgrace this week: the Washington Post reported that Virginia’s Spotsylvania High School expelled student Andrew Mikel II for the modern day equivalent of blowing spit-balls at other students. The 14-year-old used a plastic tube—made from a pen casing, an up-grade from a soda straw— to blow small plastic pellets— airsoft BB’s, perhaps?—  to annoy a few fellow students without inflicting as much pain or danger as his father or grandfather did with rubber bands and  paper clips. In a repeat of other incidents at other schools across the country, school officials expelled Mikel for possession and use of a weapon, and called a deputy sheriff to the scene. Andrew was charged with three counts of misdemeanor assault for blowing plastic pellets at three students.

The federal Gun-Free Schools Act mandates that schools expel students who take weapons, including hand guns, explosive devices and projectile weapons, to school. School officials showed decided that Mikel’s plastic tube met the definition of a projectile weapon because it was “used to intimidate, threaten or harm others.”

Really? “Intimidate”? No! “Threaten”, as in ” Do what I say or I’ll shoot a little plastic pellet at you through a straw”? I guess not. “Harm”? Harm?

To once again recall my favorite line from Neil Simon’s comedy film, “Murder By Death”, spoken by Peter Sellers in the role of the Charlie Chan-like “Sidney Wang”:

“Very interesting theory, Mr. Charleston! Only one thing wrong with it…it’s stupid!”

We all know that, don’t we? So why are so many school administrators unable or unwilling to apply common sense to school discipline?

“No-tolerance,” I fear, is a symptom of increasing callousness and incompetence in the schools. It is impossible to believe that the same people who are willing to mistreat Andrew Mikel despite all logic and standards of proportion are capable of making good decisions in other aspects of our children’s education.

4 thoughts on “No-Tolerance in Spotsylvania:Preventing the Next Columbine Spit-Ball Massacre

  1. When I was that age about 1,000 years ago, we used what was called a pea-shooter or a bean-shooter — the little plastice tube. If the nuns caught us, the punishment was not draconian: being sentenced to detention, i.e., being “kept after school”.

    But being expelled? Involving law enforcement? Certainly not! Calls to mind that ancient canard, unjust perhaps, but here it is:

    Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach; those who can’t teach, teach teachers; those who can’t teach teachers become SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS.

  2. When I was a kid, students would roll up a piece of paper into a tiny tube and use that as their “pea shooter” using spit wads. The teachers cracked down on us, telling us to grow up, stop that infantile behavior, see me after class etc. allowing us to move to another weapon of choice . . . flirting.

    In this sue happy, finger pointing, blame the other person, it’s not my fault, not MY child, world, I can understand why Administrators are forcing themselves to strictly follow the “zero tolerance” rule. Administrators are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Each case is different. Zero tolerance for one incident may seem excessive and in another, spot on.

    Citizens need to share some of the responsibility how we got this far straying from . . “Sit down. Give me that pea shooter. If you are so bored, I’ve got a great job for you after school. See that huge pile of dirt over there, you are going to move it over there.” (A friend of mine recounts having to do that same thing and his parents supported the school). . . to “Why didn’t you have a plan already enforced. You are not making our children feel safe in the school environment. It’s your fault. I’m going to sue. You have humiliated my child by making him do manual labor.” Times certainly have changed.

    Put Mikel back in school and make him move that huge pile of dirt from here to there.

    • I like it. Punishment that makes no distinction between real wrongful conduct and symbolic conduct confuses rather than enforces values. There is a difference between mischief and harm, and any system that merges the two is both unjust and counter-productive.

  3. In my day, it was a pen tube, the spring from the pen, and some balled up paper. We liked to engineer our projectile weapons for maximum fire power and camoflage. Despite being in the days of zero tolerance (and the ridiculous columbine backlash), these were still only detention worthy toys. I just don’t get it.

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