Texas Lawmaker Proposes Bill To Strip Funding From Schools That Abuse Zero Tolerance Weapons Policies

from the but-ultimately-won't-fix-zero-tolerance dept

We've written previously about the stupidity inherent in school "zero tolerance" policies, perhaps most painfully exemplified by a student's expulsion for "threatening" others with a pop tart he had bitten into the shape of a gun. When it comes to anything conceivably weapon-related (pop tart, 2-inch toy gun, fingers in a gun shape), most schools tend to overreact. This is largely due to a federal requirement that ties school funding to mandatory expulsions of students who bring weapons on campus.

There have been a few efforts made to roll these policies back. The NEA itself has released a paper [pdf] pointing out that questions the effectiveness of these policies in light of the fact that what little research exists indicates the policies have had very little effect on curbing unwanted behavior.

Despite the lack of rigorous research on this subject, existing case studies and analyses of suspension and expulsion data at the local level suggest that zero tolerance policies are not deterring misbehavior. In Tennessee, the number of drug and violent offenses in schools increased substantially over the first three years of a statewide implementation of zero tolerance policy. Furthermore, research has indicated that bullying is still rampant in many of the nation‘s schools. Approximately one in five elementary and middle school students admits to bullying his or her peers periodically. Unfortunately, researchers have not examined rates of misbehavior or suspension on a national level for schools with zero tolerance policies.
The report suggests several alternative policies and responses, noting that suspensions and expulsions tend to aggravate the problem, rather than acting as a deterrent.

Texas Congressman Steve Stockman thinks he has a solution to the zero tolerance problem. Unfortunately, his laser-like focus on a single aspect means his proposed legislation will have little effect on the overall problem.
Congressman Steve Stockman, R-Friendswood, calls H.R. 2625 the "Student Protection Act," and "A bill to protect the rights of children."

It also would deny federal funding to any school that punishes a child for "using a pencil, pen or other writing utensil to simulate a firearm."

The bill states: "So-called 'zero-tolerance' weapons policies in federally funded schools are being used to outlaw harmless expressions of childhood play.

"So-called 'zero-tolerance' weapons policies in federally funded schools are being used to teach children to be afraid of inanimate objects that are shaped like guns."
Because Stockman is so focused on a single aspect of zero tolerance policies (his bill includes several examples of students being expelled or suspended for non-weapon "weapons," including a child who was kicked out of school and arrested for wearing an NRA shirt), his bill only addresses each specific example.
The bill continues: "No funds appropriated pursuant to any provisions of law may be used for any educational institution which punishes a student as a result of any of the following actions by the student:

     "(1) brandishing a pastry or other food which is partially consumed in such a way that the remnant resembles a gun;
     "(2) possession of a toy gun which is two inches or less;
     "(3) possession of a toy gun made of plastic snap together building blocks;
     "(4) using a finger or hand to simulate a gun;
     "(5) vocalizing imaginary firearms or munitions;
     "(6) wearing a T-shirt that supports Second Amendment rights;
     "(7) drawing a picture of, or possessing an image of, a firearm; or
     "(8) using a pencil, pen or other writing utensil to simulate a firearm."
This is all well and good as it applies to each one of these instances, but proponents of zero tolerance policies have shown incredible amounts of creativity when applying them, rarely duplicating previous efforts. Everything noted here is highly unlikely to crop up again.

This also ignores two other factors. The first problem is Stockman's own. This bill follows up his failed attempt back in January to repeal the Gun-Free School Zones Act, which ties funding to weapons policies, using the argument that the bill encouraged school shooters by giving them a weapons-free target. This looks like an attempt to run an end-around and achieve the same aim (strip school funding). As such, it's probably destined to die a swift death when put to vote.

The other factor is that zero tolerance policies have enjoyed a two-decade sprawl and the havoc wreaked isn't limited, as Stockman's bill is, to only faux guns. A report [pdf] by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice points out just how far these previously limited policies have spread.
Since then, the range of situations to which zero tolerance policies have been applied has broadened. Many school districts now include drugs, alcohol, disruptive behavior, and nonviolent offenses among zero tolerance infractions. According to the most recent data of national implementation of zero tolerance policies, 94% of schools have zero tolerance policies for weapons or firearms, 87% for alcohol and 79% have mandatory suspensions or expulsions for violence or tobacco. Examples of the everbroadening scope of zero tolerance policies include treatment of nail files, paper clips, scissors, and plastic knives as weapons and Aspirin, Midol, and Certs as drugs.
Stockman's bill seeks to address the problem, but only addresses outlying events, rather than core issues. His solution, untying federal funding from zero tolerance weapon policies, is probably a non-starter, especially in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting. Another problem unaddressed is schools' increasing reliance on law enforcement to handle disciplinary actions, one that tends toward criminalizing behavior once written off as "kids acting like kids." The deepest problem, the spread of policies to cover every conceivable instance of "misbehavior," won't be addressed at all by a bill specifically tailored to address events that have already happened and are unlikely to reoccur.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), Jul 17th, 2013 @ 2:23am

    I have a better idea...

    How about, rather than punishing the school as a whole for some idiot who can't tell the difference between a pastry and a pistol, or a Bic and a rifle, why not fire the idiots expelling kids for harmless actions and/or acting like kids?

    The whole idea behind 'zero tolerance' policies is 'zero thought required' after all, and someone who is flat out incapable of thinking for themselves when making judgement calls and assigning punishments that can negatively affect someone's future clearly should not be involved in the education of children.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    S. T. Stone, Jul 17th, 2013 @ 3:27am

    Re: I have a better idea...

    I‘m sure they’d love to fire dumb teachers and administrators, but the unions that employ them tend to make it a far harder task than you'd think.

    Just ask any teacher that’s spent time in one of New York’s infamous ‘rubber rooms’.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2013 @ 4:25am

    What is it with you Americans and Zero Tolerance policy and excessive thought policing for every little thing. You would think you were some ex-dystopia, crime ridden, warlord inhabited country, that had no options left but to go full metal jacket crazy to stop the violence. You do know you are technically a first world country right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Theoden, Jul 17th, 2013 @ 4:27am

    Re: Re: I have a better idea...

    Unionized teachers in TEXAS? It is to laugh.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2013 @ 5:11am

    Re:

    "You do know you are technically a first world country right?"

    Not so sure about that.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    icon
    PopeRatzo (profile), Jul 17th, 2013 @ 5:28am

    Wait

    When it comes to anything conceivably weapon-related (pop tart, 2-inch toy gun, fingers in a gun shape), most schools tend to overreact. This is largely due to a federal requirement that ties school funding to mandatory expulsions of students who bring weapons on campus.
    How are those two sentences connected? What is it about "mandatory expulsions for bringing weapons to school" that forces schools to apply it to kids with pop tarts?

    Or is it just that the ridiculous gun culture in Texas that they want to take a sensible federal regulation and turn it into something that looks foolish, in the hope of making sure no guns can ever be regulated, anywhere?

    I'd like someone to take a closer look at the people at these schools where pop tarts and finger-guns caused expulsions or suspensions. I'm betting if you scratch the dirt a little bit, you might uncover a few NRA extremists. Considering we're talking about Texas, I'd say that's a pretty good bet.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    PopeRatzo (profile), Jul 17th, 2013 @ 5:29am

    Re:

    What is it with Texans and guns?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    icon
    PopeRatzo (profile), Jul 17th, 2013 @ 5:32am

    Re: Re: Re: I have a better idea...

    No kidding. In Texas, if two employees of the same company are seen talking together privately, they string them both up.

    There's a story of a Wal-mart employee who was heard to say the word "union" and they tied him to a stake in the desert and left him to be eaten by the vultures. In a wealthy Dallas suburb.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2013 @ 5:37am

    So we'll fix the part that the NRA dislikes...but all the other crap stays the same. Expected.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2013 @ 5:56am

    Re: Re:

    They love their guns. And their pickup trucks.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Janey, Jul 17th, 2013 @ 6:00am

    Re: Wait

    Sensible Federal regulation? No, it's not "sensible" to suspend kids for biting into a pastry. He is right. This zero tolerance garbage has gone way too far. They are now abusing it to try to condition kids to be petrified with fear over anything looking like a gun. All that serves to do is embolden criminals later down the road.

    Basically everything you said is uttly ridiculous garbage. Your claim of "NRA extremists" is silly, especially since the overwhelming majority of school teachers now are females.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    icon
    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Jul 17th, 2013 @ 6:05am

    Re: Wait

    What is it about "mandatory expulsions for bringing weapons to school" that forces schools to apply it to kids with pop tarts?
    Well I've never read the legislation in question and have no desire to not being American, but if I had to guess I'd say the legislation probably has some really woolly language about the definition of "weapon".
    It'll have been put there to cover whatever the latest weapon craze is rather than list everything from a sharpened stick to a sock with a 1/2 brick in it but it would then mean that a school could be denied funding for not expelling a kid for using some improvised "weapon" you wouldn't normally think of - such as "causing an eye injury with a pistol-shaped pop-tart" (that jam really stings if you get it in your eye...)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2013 @ 6:08am

    I get what they are trying to accomplish, but why can't we hold the administrators responsible by putting their job on the line vs. screwing over the students by stripping funding? What are the teacher unions so powerful that it's easier to defund an entire school district than in is to fire one administrator with poor judgement?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    icon
    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Jul 17th, 2013 @ 6:09am

    Real politician-think!

    Congressman Steve Stockman, R-Friendswood, calls H.R. 2625 the "Student Protection Act," and "A bill to protect the rights of children."

    It also would deny federal funding to any school that punishes a child for "using a pencil, pen or other writing utensil to simulate a firearm."
    So.. the correct solution to a really stupid law is.... (wait for it...) more stupid law!

    Only a politician (or a lawyer) could think like that. Perhaps it's a fine example of preserving your own job by creating work for yourself?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2013 @ 6:16am

    "This zero tolerance garbage has gone way too far."

    Agreed. But he isn't going after zero tolerance as a whole, just the part that affects special interests. So the bad zero tolerance stuff will stay, just a very specific subset will potentially be addressed.

    Even then, it'll probably have little to zero effect (as the article notes: "This is all well and good as it applies to each one of these instances, but proponents of zero tolerance policies have shown incredible amounts of creativity when applying them, rarely duplicating previous efforts. Everything noted here is highly unlikely to crop up again. ")

    "They are now abusing it to try to condition kids to be petrified with fear over anything looking like a gun."

    Uh...really? It can't just be that zero tolerance policies remove objectivity and discretion from the equation (thus making it easier to justify the punishments as "being out of my hands")? It has to be paranoid conditioning?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Rob, Jul 17th, 2013 @ 6:41am

    Re: I have a better idea...

    How about, rather than punishing the school as a whole for some idiot who can't tell the difference between a pastry and a pistol, or a Bic and a rifle, why not fire the idiots expelling kids for harmless actions and/or acting like kids?

    Seems reasonable at first, but hang on a minute. The person doing the expelling is gonna be a principal or his/her lackeys. Those people are gonna be following the "zero-tolerance" policy (which would have been enacted by the school board or whatever authority oversees the schools there) and realizing that if they show the least bit of tolerance, you can't call it "zero tolerance". If they fail to follow the policy, they could get disciplined or fired by the school board. So if they state threatens them with firing for following the policy, and the district threatens with firing them for not following it, they get fired at the first twinkie-wielding student that shows up.

    The people needing the punishment are the district administrators and/or the board they report to. This means punishing the district. Unfair to the students and parents not involved in the whole incident, perhaps, but it was the voters who presumably elected the school board. So it's the voters who have to feel the sting and recall the guilty rule-makers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    kitsune361, Jul 17th, 2013 @ 7:21am

    Re: Re: Wait

    Your claim of "NRA extremists" is silly, especially since the overwhelming majority of school teachers now are females.
    You sir, have obviously not met any women from Texas, outside of Austin. However, I agree that the conspiracy claptrap about "NRA extremists" is BS. We may not have teacher's unions, but the "old boy network" and school district politics works just as well to shield incompetence.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Rob, Jul 17th, 2013 @ 7:23am

    Re: Re: Wait

    "Sensible Federal regulation? No, it's not "sensible" to suspend kids for biting into a pastry. "

    You missed PopeRatzo's point -- or at least my interpretation of it. He is postulating that the federal regulation isn't nearly so broad as to go zero-tolerance on obvious non-weapon weapons. Rather, he speculates that Texas school districts themselves have specifically chosen to overly broadly interpret the federal rules in order to discredit them. It's not a new tactic to try to overturn laws and rules and regs by enforcing them in the most draconian possible way. You get public outrage against the rules by deliberately and intentionally excessively punishing kids that almost anyone would consider innocent and harmless.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    Transmitte (profile), Jul 17th, 2013 @ 7:56am

    Ah yes, more dubious legislation to make it look like something is being done.

    It's funny how the public/lawmakers seems to think the school, it's employee and governing rules set for by school districts should be the ones taking care of all these heads of lettuce causing the problems. Where did the blame on parents go for raising(or in this case, not raising) children properly.

    Schools are centers for education and grooming social behaviors, but those behaviors are started and nurtured at home, and if the parents are not capable of governing a child properly, they might as well set loose a rabid pit bull on the public. Blanket statement it may be, but I have literally watch this behavior up close and personal(parent getting run over by a child)

    You can set rules and laws to your hearts content concerning schools, funding ET AL, however, if children are not being educated in the home, whats the point?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2013 @ 8:08am

    Zero Tolerance

    The problem is that school administrators have zero tolerance for children unless they are seen to stand in neat obedient lines, and only speak when spoken to by an adult.
    /sarc

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    The dude, Jul 17th, 2013 @ 8:51am

    Re: Zero Tolerance

    I would dare to say that there is no need for the /sarc tag

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2013 @ 10:49am

    FREEZE MOTHER FUCKER!!! THAT'S RIGHT IT'S FROSTED BITCH!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    icon
    PopeRatzo (profile), Jul 17th, 2013 @ 11:04am

    Re: Re: Wait

    Your claim of "NRA extremists" is silly, especially since the overwhelming majority of school teachers now are females.
    But the overwhelming majority of these ridiculous abuses of the zero tolerance laws do not seem to be evenly distributed geographically.

    Since the requirements for the laws are uniform, why do the abuses always seem to happen in states that have high populations of gun nuts, like Texas?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    PRMan, Jul 17th, 2013 @ 11:37am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: I have a better idea...

    And he was only talking about his grandfather being born in the Soviet Union...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    PRMan, Jul 17th, 2013 @ 11:40am

    Re: Zero Tolerance

    You clearly haven't been to a school in a while. The kids are completely out of control 99% of the time and the adults all hide in the building during break times and let them abuse each other in the yard.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2013 @ 12:53pm

    Common sense

    We could use that!

    ... if it weren't for the utter lack of it

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2013 @ 1:37pm

    Re:

    lol

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    icon
    Feedback (profile), Jul 17th, 2013 @ 2:56pm

    Political Grandstanding

    The narrow crafting of this bill is a clear attempt to score political points rather than actually solve a real problem. Unfortunately, grandstanding like this has become a full time job for the vast majority of legislators, and it's not likely to stop until voters in this country start to recognize, and reject, their representative's efforts at pandering.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This