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Schools Rethink “Zero Tolerance”

Posted at: 02/18/2013 9:36 PM
Updated at: 02/18/2013 10:12 PM
By: John Doetkott

(ABC 6 News) -- Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, many schools have reviewed their safety policies in an effort to protect students as much as possible.

Across the country and in Minnesota, many schools employ a so-called “zero tolerance” policy aimed at deterring students from engaging in any weapons-related behavior.

But now, more and more people are questioning the wisdom of those policies.

“You suspend a kid for pointing a finger at somebody and I don't think that's right,” said David Krenz, superintendent of Austin Public Schools.

Austin is among the many districts that have chosen not to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy for weapons-related incidents, with school officials claiming such policies remove rational judgment from the equation.

“With a zero tolerance policy you don't have that choice to teach, you immediately would expel,” Krenz said. “And we see incidents of that all over the country."

Indeed schools in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Massachusetts have all suspended or threatened to suspend students over incidents involving pretend weapons.

Critics say these incidents are examples of administrators over reacting to non-threatening situations.

The Rochester Public School District does have a "zero tolerance" policy that goes so far as to ban weapons that are “broken or non-functional, look-alike guns, toy guns, and any object that is a facsimile of a real weapon."

School officials there called the policy necessary given people's conflicting views on guns.

And while both Rochester and Austin have expelled students for breaching weapons policies in the past, educators say the bigger concern should be how to move forward.

“We're a teaching institution and our role is to help kids learn right from wrong, rather than throwing the book at them right away."

Austin public schools are currently in the process of reviewing their safety policies, but officials do not expect any drastic changes.

And the Rochester Public School Board will be discussing their safety measures when they meet Tuesday night.