Another kid has fallen victim to just being a kid.
An eleven-year old special education student in New Jersey spent a week at home on suspension after a foam Nerf gun dart with a toothpick sticking out of it fell out of his pocket.
Aarin Moody wasn’t waving it around, pointing it anyone, or using it to threaten anyone. He simply forgot that it was in his pocket when he pulled a late slip from his pocket to hand to his teacher. His teacher on the other hand, claimed it looked like a “shank” and was meant to hurt someone.
If getting in trouble with his teacher wasn’t enough, this fifth grader was escorted by a security guard to the office where he faced his punishment. What was initially to be an expulsion was downgraded to a week-long suspension.
Apparently, Aarin plays with Nerf guns at home and puts a toothpick in the end of the styrofoam bullets so it sticks in the dirt when he shoots it.
His mother has been understandably angry since getting the phone call about her son’s “dangerous” behavior:
“From their lookings that the quote unquote weapon looked like it was an imitation of a shank,” said mother Michelle Moody.
“It’s a toy with a toothpick on it,” she said.
“It sound completely ludicrous to me that my son would be expelled for a Nerf bullet,” said Michelle Moody.
“It’s mind baffling to me that someone would even take something as small as this to the highest extreme,” said the student’s mother.
It’s baffling to us as well, but not surprising. Aarin Moody joins the ranks of other pint-sized “criminals” that our school systems are turning out for kid play.
We’ve reported on the infamous case of a Maryland seven-year old who was suspended for chewing his gun into the shape of a pop tart. Another six-year-old Maryland boy was allowed back into school after pointing his finger at a classmate and saying “pow.”
The issue is zero tolerance policies which impose automatic punishment for infractions that aren’t really infractions and don’t signal bad or dangerous conduct. Schools want to prevent the next Sandy Hook, and we do, too. However, zero tolerance rules strip school officials and people in positions of authority of the discretion necessary to make judgments about conduct. It’s a one-size-fits-all solution that catches innocent behavior up in a dragnet of wrong-doing. And it leaves our kids with tarnished records, which can even funnel them into the juvenile justice system, which in itself has become a pathway to the adult justice system.
There’s no evidence that zero tolerance rules reduce violence or drug abuse by young people, according to psychologists who’ve been studying these laws since they were instituted.
Some legislators think the answer is legislation – surprise, surprise. Still, a Texas lawmakers wants to block federal dollars to schools that take zero tolerance too far might not be off base. Florida was pushing a bill that would prevent students from being suspended for some of the cases we noted above.
More legislation is not the long term answer. We need sweeping reforms that roll back zero tolerance and replace it with some common sense. School officials need greater discretion in how they dole out punishments and the ability to exercise mature judgment in identifying what behavior is truly dangerous.