In the wake of high-profile school shootings, school districts have adopted zero-tolerance policies designed to keep weapons out of schools. The harsh punishments from suspension to expulsion have caught unwitting children up into a dragnet that threatens their future for “crimes” as simple as playing cops and robbers during recess or chewing their pop tart into a gun.

Last fall, a Texas Congressman introduced legislation to block federal dollars to schools that take zero tolerance too far. Now, other state legislatures are moving in a similar direction.

Florida lawmakers are pushing through a bill that prevents students from being punished for “simulating a weapon” with harmless objects. Here’s more:

The bill cleared by a state House panel on Wednesday would bar school districts from suspending students for “brandishing a partially consumed pastry or other food item” bitten into the shape of a weapon or “possessing a toy firearm or weapon made of plastic snap-together building blocks.”

[State Rep. Dennis] Baxley dubbed the measure the “Pop-Tart bill,” a monicker that refers to a case in Maryland involving a student who chewed a toaster pastry into the shape of a pistol, inspiring similar legislation in that state.

It would prevent students from facing disciplinary action for wearing clothes that depict guns or “express an opinion regarding a right guaranteed by the Second Amendment.” It would allow administrators to take action if a toy disrupts learning or poses a legitimate threat.

This is a good demonstration of how government can work to protect the rights of its citizens –even the smallest ones- through self-correction.

In overreactions to high-profile school shootings like Columbine and Sandy Hook, legislators passed bills that required school districts to impose strict penalties on students who posed a serious threat. While well-intentioned and perhaps borne from a desire to do something to ensure massacres don’t occur there, the resulting zero-tolerance rules were ill-conceived, lacked common sense, and tied the hands of administrators.

The unintended consequences were to punish all students harshly for actions that warranted little or no punishment. That is what happens when government takes a roller brush to problems that require a fine-tipped brush.

It’s encouraging that Florida recognized the damage its legislation has caused and is working to reverse it, and Maryland sees the error of its ways too. But how many other state legislatures are working to protect the rights and future of their students from overly reactive legislation?

Interestingly, the ACLU has been one of the most powerful critics of zero-tolerance policies calling it a “school-to-prison pipeline” by criminalizing childish or adolescent behavior. It’s not far-fetched to see how expulsion for simple play in elementary school can set a child on a track to criminalization instead of success.

Let’s hope that the gun control lobby doesn’t stymie these efforts to reintroduce common sense. At risk are the futures and rights of our children.

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