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Is the cure worse than the illness? Some of the ridiculous outcomes in our public school districts make one wonder. I am grousing about “zero tolerance” in our schools these days, i.e., zero tolerance as applied to weapons and drugs in particular. The latest example of a Bedford High School student fortunately had a reasonable outcome, but that is not always the case. The junior at L.D. Bell High School in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district in Texas now must truly believe the old saw that “no good deed goes unpunished.” According to the news reports, he and his father packed up his ill grandmother’s linens, books and kitchenware. The items were taken to Goodwill as a donation because it’s unlikely the grandmother will ever be healthy enough to need them. Apparently, a 10-inch bread knife fell out of one of the boxes and into the bed of the young man’s pickup. Security personnel at the high school saw the bread knife in the bed of his truck and reported it to school authorities. The 16-year-old honor student was expelled under the “zero tolerance” doctrine. Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code requires expulsion of a student in possession of any weapon listed in � 46.01 or � 46.05 of the Texas Penal Code. Included in the definitions of the statutes are knives with blades more than 5.5 inches. No distinction is made as to whether a knife’s intended purpose is for an assault, self-defense or to butter a muffin. After a successful appeal, the Bedford High School student went back to school. I do not dispute that the Littleton, Colo., massacre and the subsequent shootings at other schools call for caution and vigilance on the part of the school officials. However, my lament is that often well-intentioned policies become writ in concrete, leaving officials no discretion for common-sense distinctions. In Bexar County, Texas, and probably many other counties, similar incidents have caused the public and parents to scratch their heads. In the juvenile justice system, we confront youngsters taking weapons to school frequently. Usually these weapons end up on school property by misguided needs for self-defense or retaliation or simple braggadocio. We’ve all heard the stories. There was an elementary school student who was being bullied by a classmate. For protection, the victim took to school a set of eight steak knives, belonging to his mother, still in their leather box. Then there was the story about the student, who allegedly had something dangerous in his locker. When the school administrator searched a backpack in the youth’s locker, a harmless grass snake slithered out. The teacher fainted. (I do not remember what, if any, policy covers possession of harmless snakes on school property.) When faced with incidents of weapons meant to be used on others, we all expect appropriate consequences to follow. My complaint is with the inability of administrators to deal with the exceptions because expulsion can have such a devastating effect on a child’s plans for college or entry into the armed services. Zero tolerance for drugs also produces some peculiar predicaments. Children have been expelled because of an Alka Seltzer or Tylenol in a jacket pocket or backpack. Fortunately, if charges are filed, prosecutorial discretion and judicial discretion may intervene to screen out frivolous cases. In schools, common sense and judgment appear to be absent. Do we teach our students valuable lessons with just Kafkaesque outcomes? I don’t think so. Carol Herring Weir is an associate juvenile judge for Judge Carmen Kelsey in the 289th District Court in Bexar County, Texas. She also works as an attorney ad litem in the child abuse court in Bexar County.

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