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

“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.

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