Friday, February 13, 2009

Student in CO suspended for mock rifle in car: debate on "zero tolerance" and common sense in schools

A student, Marie Morrow, will be suspended (or “expelled”) for at least one day by Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora, CO, in order to comply with a state law that mandates expulsion of any student found with weapons or facsimiles on school property, even in a locked car.

The student is in honors academically and is drill team commander for the Young Marines, and the instrument was a ceremonial copy that cannot fire rounds. Nevertheless, the law requires her removal from school.

The story appears today on the front page of The Washington Times, Feb. 13, 2009. The title is “School gun case sparks cries for ‘common sense’; Student in hot water for mock fifles”, link here.

Reportedly, the legislature is considering revising the law.

But across the nation, states have passed zero-tolerance laws for potentially dangerous material being even in locked cars of students or teachers on school property. In the spring of 2005, when I was substituting, a teacher was arrested at a Fairfax County VA high school on a day that I was there when someone reported a weapon (actually not loaded) locked in his trunk.

It might be possible in some states that it would be illegal for a student or teacher to possess pornography (even) in a locked vehicle on campus, on the theory that it could be distributed, even if not intended to. I was once approached by a security guard because some pages of a gay newspaper (“personals”) could be seen on the back seat of my car where parked, even though locked. I hadn’t thought about it. That raises interesting questions.

I can imagine some other questions about teacher responsibility. What if a teacher (even a substitute) goes to a bar and sees a student he or she knows to be underage drinking. This has happened to me at least once. Does anyone know about school policies regarding such situations?

It is possible to imagine laws about Internet content posted off-duty and off-campus by teachers and students. This has already been discussed here in conjunction with the growing issue of cyberbullying and the legal debate on school responsibility for what happens off campus. But one problem is that one can maintain that if a particular piece of content believed by some to be inappropriate is published in a public space, it is, in some sense, vicariously “present” on school property and could be regulated. (The content could be blocked from school computers but students could have seen it and been influenced by it.) I was involved in one such problem in Oct. 2005 (discussed on my main blog July 27, 2007).

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