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10 Ridiculous Instances Of Zero Tolerance In Schools

by Gordon Gora
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Since the 1990s, schools have been implanting zero-tolerance policies concerning a variety of behaviors. The policies cover such things as medication, weapons, and more in an attempt to protect students. While some say that the policies are needed, others claim that they are too restrictive and point to various outrageous incidents that have gained national attention. Whatever the reason for these policies, these are some of the most ridiculous cases of zero tolerance in schools.

10 The Pop-Tart Gun

Should 7-year-old be suspended for Pop-Tart gun?

In March 2013 at Park Elementary School in Maryland, an eight-year-old boy was suspended for the innocent act of biting his Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun. Considering that the Sandy Hook shooting had occurred only recently beforehand, educators were on their guard, but many professionals feel that what they did next went too far: They suspended the boy. The firestorm over the incident caused increased debate about the zero-tolerance rules that must public schools have.

After the news of the suspension made headlines, many believed that the educators were overreacting because of the gun issue. According to others, the boy had a history of disciplinary problems, which prompted the decision to suspend him. Those who defended the suspension said that it was more about the boy disrupting his classroom than the fact that he had eaten his Pop-Tart into the shape of the gun.

While his parents did agree that the boy had “minor disciplinary problems,” they said that suspension was too far, especially for such a young student. A lawsuit was soon brought up by the parents against the school district. They claimed that by suspending their son, the school wasn’t even attempting to work with the boy. After the suspension ended, the boy finished his school year and was transferred.

9 Girl Arrested For Doodling On A Desk

12 Year Old Girl Cuffed

In 2010, a 12-year-old girl named Alexa Gonzalez was arrested for doodling the following message on her desk in green marker: “I love my friends Abby and Faith. Lex was here 2/1/10.” Most of us would think such an act would result in detention and perhaps Alexa having to clean the desk. Instead, she was placed under arrest and threatened with possible suspension. The traumatizing experience was due to zero-tolerance policies against graffiti, which her doodle was considered.

Alexa Gonzalez was placed in handcuffs and marched out of school by police in front of her classmates and the staff of Junior High School 190 in Forest Hills, New York. They then took her across the street to the police precinct. Gonzalez described her arrest: “They put the handcuffs on me, and I couldn’t believe it . . . I didn’t want them [her classmates] to see me being handcuffed, thinking I’m a bad person.” According to Gonzalez’s mother, Alexa was in handcuffs for several hours in the police station.

After the incident was examined, education department spokesman David Cantor said that what occurred should have never happened. Alexa was given an apology, and her suspension was lifted. However, she was still given eight hours of community service, had to do a book report, and had to write an essay about what she learned from the incident.

8 A Student Is Given A Psychological Evaluation For Twirling A Pencil

Today@5: Big problems for the kid suspended for twirling a pencil in school

In 2014, a 13-year-old middle schooler Ethan Chaplin was given a psychological evaluation and kept from school until the results came back for merely twirling a pencil in a pen cap. Another student—who had been bullying Chaplin—saw what he was doing and yelled to the teacher, “He’s making gun motions, send him to juvie.”

The teacher took the bully seriously. Ethan Chaplin was suspended for two days and sent to Riverview Medical Center for a five-hour exam. The superintendent of the school gave a statement defending the school’s actions: “If a student demonstrates odd behaviors, non-conforming behaviors, it causes us to take a closer look, if a student gestures or demonstrates behavior that could be construed as a threat to others in a classroom . . . then that’s also a trigger for us.”

Michael Chaplin, Ethan’s father, claimed that the superintendent’s comments were “disturbing” and that they likened his son to prominent school shooters. After Ethan returned to school, he was followed by the principal, and his friends were interviewed.

7 An Autistic Boy Draws A ‘Violent Picture’ And Gets Suspended

Autistic student suspended for drawing bomb picture going back to school

Rhett Parham, a 13-year-old boy with autism, liked to play Bomberman 64, a video game for Nintendo 64. It is well known that those who have autism often lack many social skills, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that Parham didn’t think anything was wrong with drawing an illustration from the video game and bringing it to Hillcrest Middle School in Greenville, South Carolina. However, after students complained, Parham was suspended.

According to the students who complained, Parham said that he had a “bomb” and would then show his hand-drawn picture to them. After Parham was suspended, his mother spoke about the situation: “I’m angry. I’m upset and I’m incredulous, honestly, that a child could come in and bring a drawing and that’s somehow perceived as a threat . . . especially someone with special needs who really doesn’t filter information the same way that typical children do.”

The good news is that after the matter was cleared up by the mother and the administration, Parham’s suspension was lifted. Parham’s mother explained: “They did not suspend Rhett and they did not recommend expulsion. [ . . . ] They realized that his disability was the reason that he made statements and drew the picture, and that he had no malicious intent whatsoever.”

6 A Boy Is Suspended For His Cub Scout Knife

First Grader With Camping Utensils Suspended

In 2009, six-year-old Cub Scout Zachary Christie was suspended for bringing his Cub Scout knife (a utensil that also featured a fork and a spoon) to school. According to him, he only brought the knife so he could show it off at lunch. Christie, who had been trained to use the knife, felt that nothing was wrong. The faculty, on the other hand, felt that the knife was too dangerous and proceeded to suspend Christie and threaten to send him to a reform school.

Zachary Christie had recently joined the Cub Scouts and was especially proud of his knife, which was standard issue. However, after the Columbine shootings, the Christina School District implemented zero-tolerance policies. According to the school policy, anyone who brings weapons to school will be treated the same, regardless of intent or the perpetrator’s age. This was why the the six-year-old was suspended.

After the incident, a hearing was allowed in which Christie’s karate teacher and his mother’s fiance were brought in to testify about his behavior. In spite of their arguments, the school spokesperson agreed with the decision, saying: “There is no parent who wants to get a phone call where they hear that their child no longer has two good seeing eyes because there was a scuffle and someone pulled out a knife.”

5 Girl Is Arrested For Owning A Kitchen Knife

Kitchen Knife
In 2001, a straight-A student named Lindsay Brown was arrested for owning a kitchen knife. Brown, a high school senior, was known for being determined and took her grades seriously. Unfortunately, she never had time to clean the clutter from her car, so she didn’t really know what was in it. This would prove detrimental for her in May, when shortly before graduation, Brown was arrested for felony possession of a deadly weapon.

A felony charge can be a roadblock to a successful life, so Brown was understandably distraught, considering that her future was on the line. According to her, she had left a kitchen knife in her car when she went to school. The 13-centimeter (5 in) knife was technically classified as a deadly weapon, and when someone saw the knife in her car, they reported her to the police. Brown was promptly booked and arrested. She was also suspended from school, which would make her miss the very graduation that she had been working so hard for. Brown worried that the incident might affect her scholarships. She explained how she felt: “They’re taking away my memories. [. . .] I’m so angry, I won’t get to graduate with my friends because of a stupid kitchen knife.”

Luckily for Brown, she wasn’t charged with a crime because it couldn’t be proven that she knowingly possessed the knife. She did not get to graduate with her class, however, and received her diploma in the mail.

4 A Boy Gets Suspended For His ‘Bow And Arrow’

In 2013, a 10-year-old named Johnny Jones was suspended from his school for using his imaginary “bow and arrow.” While this may seem completely harmless, seeing as kids play this sort of game all the time, the school saw this from a different point of view. The school assumed that Jones was dangerous and disciplined him for an imaginary weapon.

Jones was pretending to shoot his friends with the “bow and arrow,” and the faculty took this as violent, aggressive behavior. Jones pretended that a pencil was his arrow and began to play; he harmed no one in the process. Nevertheless, the faculty interpreted Jones’s actions as threatening. He began this game after another student pretended to use a gun on him. Both Jones and the other boy were suspended.

After Jones’s parents heard the news and the reason behind it, they began to consider legal action. Jones’s mother released a statement to the press: “Parents need to know if their kid makes a sign with their fingers, then they’re going to have a suspension for threatening with a firearm. [ . . . ] That’s ridiculous.”

3 A Boy Calls His Teacher ‘Cute’ And Gets Suspended

Boy suspended for calling teacher CUTE?!

In 2011, a nine-year-old boy named Emanyea Lockett was suspended after he told his friend that his teacher was “fine” in a suggestive manner, along with calling her “cute.” When a substitute teacher heard his comments, Lockett was suspended for what the principal of the school, Brookside Elementary, called “sexual harassment.” Lockett’s mother described the situation: “It’s not like he went up to the woman and tried to grab her or touch her in a sexual way . . . So why would he be suspended for two days?”

That’s not the end of the story. After Lockett’s mother began to ask questions, the school delivered a certified letter to her explaining their reasons for the suspension. According to the school, Emanyea’s comments, as mentioned before, were considered sexual harassment. In addition to his comments on the teacher, the school claimed that Emanyea had been calling students “bad words” in the past, which he had been warned about. Emanyea denied this, and the school had never previously informed his mother about this behavior.

The school district eventually opened an investigation and decided that Emanyea had done nothing wrong. They removed the suspension from his record and even apologized to him and his family. Because of the incident, the principal who suspended him retired.

2 A Boy Gets Suspended For Finding A Pocketknife

Facepalming Kid
In 2003, fifth grader Keith Post, who attended Pyles Elementary School in Stanton, California, was suspended for five days for being in possession of a weapon: a 5-centimeter (2 in) blade that he found in the lunchroom. Post planned on turning it in. He waited for two hours because he was afraid that the teacher would think the blade belonged to him. Because he waited, the faculty decided to suspend him instead of simply taking the blade and letting that be the end of it.

This caused concern over whether the zero-tolerance policies were too strict. According to the school’s policy, Post should have turned the blade in immediately. The rule stated that any student with a weapon must be automatically suspended for five days and given a school hearing no matter the circumstances. According to the principal, the weapons policy was supposed to create a safe environment for students. While most wouldn’t argue against the policy’s intentions, the fact that Post was punished for doing what he felt was right caused concern about how strict the school policy should be.

Post’s father talked about the situation: “The law is written and intended for those who get caught with a weapon. [ . . . ] Keith turned it in. He deserves to be made into an example of good behavior, not to be punished.” In spite of being punished, Keith didn’t regret his decision: “It was the right thing to do. [ . . . ] I can’t let myself do bad things.”

1 ChapStick Is Banned From A School

In 2014, at Stuart Draft Elementary School, a fifth grader was told that she couldn’t use ChapStick because it was considered a medication, and she would need a prescription. While most of us wouldn’t see ChapStick in this light, the school district saw it differently. Grace Karaffa, the fifth-grader in question, has lips that chap easily and can even bleed if they aren’t treated with ChapStick. She was repeatedly denied relief because of the ban.

According to the superintendent, the policy is meant to protect students: “Our policy is not to be so restrictive. It is really a protection for the students.” However, winter is a particularly bad time for Karaffa, and she needs ChapStick several times a day. She told of one day when her lips began to bleed multiple times, and she was still denied ChapStick: “Later that day, they started to bleed again, and my teacher said it was against the school policy to have ChapStick during school, so I had to go to the bathroom.”

Karaffa decided to work to change the policy. She started a petition, which was circulated among the other students. Eventually, she gathered hundreds of names. She also spoke in front of several classrooms, and the teachers who agreed with her position circulated the petition in their rooms. Finally, the administration agreed to examine their policy to see if it was too restrictive.

Gordon Gora is a struggling author who is desperately trying to make it. He is working on several projects, but until he finishes one, he will write for Listverse for his bread and butter. You can write him at [email protected].

fact checked by Jamie Frater