Tag Archives: zero tolerance policy

The Criminalization of America’s Schoolchildren

John W. Whitehead, Constitutional attorney, author and president of The Rutherford Institute, explains how American schools are the tool of government by which children are made compliant citizens of an American police state.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5j3NRRQQnI&w=560&h=315]

Also, you can read the print version at http://www.rutherford.org.

13-Year-Old Middle School Student Suspended for ‘Pranking’ Fellow Student with Oregano, Charged with Distributing Counterfeit Drug

(WAXHAW, NC) — The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of an eighth-grade public school student who was suspended for allegedly playing a joke on a fellow student by giving him a bag of the Italian herb oregano. As a result of his prank, the 13-year-old Cuthbertson Middle School student was initially suspended for 10 days and charged with being in possession of and having the intent to distribute an “illegal drug, counterfeit or synthetic drug.” School officials with Union County Public Schools have since suspended the boy for an additional 45 days with attendance in an alternative school program. In addition to the suspension being a gross overreaction to a childish prank, Institute attorneys point out that oregano cannot properly be considered a “counterfeit or synthetic drug” under the school’s Code of Conduct or the North Carolina statute pertaining to counterfeit drugs.

“Zero-tolerance discipline cases are becoming increasingly absurd,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Rather than responding with reason, proportionality, and compassion to childish indiscretions, schools are subjecting young people to treatment far worse than is meted out to adult defendants in the criminal justice system. It doesn’t make any sense.”

On January 20, 2012, the eighth grader in question, whose family has asked that he not be identified publicly (referred to hereafter as “B”), brought a bag containing oregano to Cuthbertson Middle School. “B” played a joke on a fellow student who had spoken to him about marijuana—the students having discussed it in health class—by giving his classmate a bag of oregano. Claiming they didn’t want other children to be in danger, school officials charged “B” with having the intent to distribute an “illegal drug, counterfeit or synthetic drug,” and initially suspended him for 10 days, later extending it to an additional 45 days. Insisting that her son had merely engaged in a schoolboy prank with no intention to harm anyone, “B’s” mother turned to The Rutherford Institute for help.

In a letter to officials with the Union County Public Schools, John W. Whitehead warned that the school’s unwarranted overreaction to the incident could be construed as a violation of “B’s” constitutional rights. Moreover, in light of the fact that oregano is not defined as a “counterfeit or synthetic drug” in accordance with the school’s Student Code of Conduct, nor does it meet the statutory definition of “counterfeit drug” as set forth in North Carolina General Stat. Ann. §106-121(4a), Institute attorneys argue that “B” cannot be subjected to long-term suspension. Pointing out that North Carolina law not only confers upon school officials the authority to issue long-term suspensions only when a student’s conduct demonstrates a willful violation of school policies, but also discourages such punishments except for serious violations that either threaten the safety of students, staff or school visitors or threaten to substantially disrupt the educational environment, Whitehead has asked that the long-term suspension be revoked immediately in favor of a reasonable response that takes “B’s” best interests into account and avoids unnecessary interference with his education.

Chicago Elementary School Teacher Accused of Weapons Possession for Demonstrating Use of Tools in Classroom

(CHICAGO) In yet another instance of zero tolerance run amok, The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of a Chicago public school teacher who is being charged with possessing, carrying, storing or using a weapon after he displayed such garden-variety tools as wrenches, pliers and screwdrivers in his classroom as part of his second grade teaching curriculum that required a “tool discussion”.

Despite the fact that all potentially hazardous items were kept out of the students’ reach, school officials at Washington Irving Elementary School informed Doug Bartlett, a 17-year veteran in the classroom, that his use of the tools as visual aids endangered his students. Bartlett now faces disciplinary action and possible termination. Warning the school that disciplinary action under these circumstances could constitute a violation of Bartlett’s Fourteenth Amendment right to due process, Rutherford Institute attorneys are demanding that the school halt the disciplinary proceedings against Bartlett.

The Rutherford Institute’s letter to Washington Irving Elementary School officials in defense of Doug Bartlett is available at www.rutherford.org.

“The charges against Doug Bartlett are absurd—a gross overreaction to a simple teaching demonstration—and underscore exactly what is wrong with zero tolerance policies in the schools,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “School officials should know better than to impose such draconian punishments for innocent actions. Commonplace, basic tools such as wrenches and pliers used as part of a classroom exercise are clearly not weapons. Education truly suffers when school administrators exhibit such poor judgment and common sense.”

Doug Bartlett teaches second graders at Washington Irving Elementary School in Chicago. On August 8, 2011, Bartlett used several garden-variety tools he uses around the classroom, including wrenches, screwdrivers, a box cutter, a 2.25″ pocketknife, and pliers, as visual aids for a “tool discussion” which is required by the teaching curriculum. It is common for teachers to use such visual aids to help students retain their lessons. As he displayed the box cutter and pocketknife in particular, Bartlett specifically described the proper uses of these tools. None of the tools were made accessible to the students. When not in use, the tools are secured in a toolbox on a high shelf out of reach of the students. However, on August 19, Bartlett received notice that he was under investigation for, among other things, “possessing, carrying, storing, or using a weapon,” and for negligently supervising children. If found at fault, Bartlett faces punishments ranging from a simple written reprimand to termination. Bartlett then turned to The Rutherford Institute for help.

In coming to Bartlett’s defense, Institute attorneys point out Bartlett had no intent to use the tools as weapons. In fact, he has used some of the same tools for years without incident. Institute attorneys are urging Valeria Newell Bryant, the principal of Washington Irving Elementary School, to immediately dismiss any and all disciplinary actions against Bartlett. “In an age where public schools face an unprecedented number of real challenges in maintaining student discipline, and addressing threats of real violence, surely no one benefits from trumped up charges where no actual ‘weapons’ violation has occurred and there is no threat whatsoever posed to any member of the school community,” stated the Institute in its letter.

Court Upholds School Expulsion, Assault Charges of 14-Year-Old Honor Student Over Shooting Plastic ‘Spitwads’

(SPOTSYLVANIA, Va) The Circuit Court of the County of Spotsylvania has refused to reverse the expulsion of a 14-year-old honor student charged under a school zero tolerance policy with “violent criminal conduct” and possession of a weapon for shooting plastic “spitwads” at classmates. Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute had petitioned the court to intervene on behalf of Andrew Mikel, a freshman at Spotsylvania High School, who was expelled for the remainder of the school year for allegedly using the body of a pen to blow small, hollow plastic balls akin to spitwads at fellow students. School officials also referred the matter to local law enforcement for criminal prosecution. Mikel has been homeschooled since the incident occurred in December 2010. Institute attorneys have offered their assistance to the Mikel family should they choose to appeal the court’s ruling.

“We’re greatly disappointed by this ruling, which does not in any way see justice served,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Andrew Mikel is merely the latest in a long line of victims of school zero tolerance policies whose educations have been senselessly derailed by school administrators lacking in both common sense and compassion.”

On December 10, 2010, ninth grader Andrew Mikel, a student at Spotsylvania High School, was sent to the principal’s office after shooting a handful of small, hollow pellets akin to plastic spitwads at fellow students in the school hallway during lunch period. Mikel, an honor student active in Junior ROTC and in his church, was initially suspended for 10 days and charged with criminal assault and possession of a weapon under the school’s Student Code of Conduct. The Spotsylvania County School Board later voted to expel Mikel for the remainder of the school year, allegedly on the recommendation of the school’s assistant principal. School officials also referred the matter to local law enforcement, which initiated juvenile criminal proceedings for assault, resulting in Mikel being placed in a diversion program, as well as having to take substance abuse and anger management counseling.

Decrying the school’s actions as arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute filed a legal petition with the Circuit Court of the County of Spotsylvania asking the court to overturn the School Board’s decision. Institute attorneys also challenged the school’s characterization of Mikel’s actions as “criminal” and the spitwads as “weapons,” contending that there was no indication that Mikel intended to harm anyone and the plastic tube and pellets did not rise to the level of “weapons” as defined by the school code. Furthermore, Institute attorneys insist that Mikel’s conduct did not rise to the level required for expulsion or long-term suspension under the Student Code of Conduct. As a result of the criminal charges, Mikel, who had hoped to attend the U.S. Naval Academy following graduation from high school, can no longer be considered as an applicant.

Mikel’s father, a former Navy Seabee and Marine officer, who was awarded a meritorious service medal for solving the problem of “brown-out” for helicopters in Iraq (the sand caused static electricity that interfered with instruments during landing), credits his son with inspiring the solution. “I fought for my country and the rights of people here, and my family sacrificed right along with me,” stated Mikel Sr. “The actions of the school system are completely inconsistent with what I fought for.”

Source: Rutherford Institute News, May 24, 2011.

Zero Tolerance Victory: School Officials Agree to Rescind Suspension of 7th Grade Honor Student Over Possession of Oregano

After being criticized by The Rutherford Institute for misapplying zero tolerance policies and suspending a seventh grade honor student over allegations that he was in possession of the Italian herb oregano, school officials at Hickory Middle School have agreed to rescind the 10-day suspension and the recommendation for expulsion for “possession of an imitation controlled substance.” School officials confirmed that Adam Grass, a candidate for the National Junior Honors Society, will not have a drug offense on his record. Grass will be permitted to return to school effective tomorrow.

“This is a victory for common sense and Adam Grass,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Adam should not have been punished in the first place. At no time, did he violate the law or school policy. Hopefully, other schools will follow suit.”

According to Rachel Grass, Adam’s mother, one of Adam’s classmates brought a plastic baggy containing oregano to school and displayed it to fellow students during their lunch period, saying, “Haha, it looks like pot.” Adam immediately backed away. However, another student took possession of the oregano. Encountering Adam in the bathroom later, that student asked him to return the oregano to the classmate who had brought it to school in the first place. Adam initially agreed, only belatedly realizing that the owner was not in his next class. Adam then gave the oregano to someone who did have class with the owner. At no time, did Adam treat the so-called “substance” as anything other than oregano or intend to deceive anyone about it. Moreover, when school officials intervened and questioned Adam about the matter, he related exactly what happened, which was corroborated by the other students interviewed by administrators and school officers.

Despite the fact that Adam was unwittingly caught up in what Institute attorneys describe as nothing more than a schoolboy prank, he was shown “zero tolerance” by school officials. As a result, Adam and two other students were given 10-day suspensions pending expulsion for possession and distribution of an imitation controlled substance. In calling on the school to rectify what it termed a gross overreaction, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute pointed out that school officials were misapplying state law in this matter, in addition to violating Adam’s constitutional rights. Specifically, Institute attorneys argued that oregano does not meet the statutory definition of “imitation controlled substance” under Virginia law and Adam did not possess the requisite intent to “give, sell, or distribute” an imitation controlled substance as defined by the Chesapeake School Board in Article XIII of its “Expectation of Conduct and Sanctions for Violation.” Moreover, “Adam had no intent to violate school policy,” Whitehead wrote in his letter to school officials. “His intent was merely to convey a harmless bag of oregano back to its rightful owner.”

“We can not thank The Rutherford Institute enough for their assistance in this matter, but feel that zero tolerance policies still need to be addressed,” stated Rachel Grass. “Policies need to allow for some gray area to allow for some common sense to enter into the equation for the good of the kids. That is what everyone is here for anyway—the children.”

For more on the problems of zero tolerance, read John Whitehead’s commentary titled “Zero Tolerance Policies: Are the Schools Becoming Police States?“.