A 16-year-old high school student in Columbia Falls, Montana faces possible expulsion after accidentally bringing an unloaded hunting rifle to school. Though the gun did not pose any danger to others at any time, the school’s zero-tolerance policy might mean Demarie DeReu will be labeled a domestic terrorist, her college career derailed and record tainted forever.
Over Thanksgiving break, Demarie, who is an Honor Roll student and member of the student council, went hunting with her family. She then forgot to remove her hunting rifle from the trunk of her car, and shortly thereafter, drove herself to school like any other day.
Upon hearing the “contraband dog” was to be in the school’s parking lot later that day, Demarie remembered the rifle and voluntarily told school officials. For her reward, Demarie will face the local school board next week for an expulsion hearing.
Demarie’s case has sparked outrage amongst gun advocates throughout the state. In response, Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, sent a letter to supporters saying, “She will possibly have her life derailed because a bunch of school idiots insist that she must be subject to an irrational ‘zero tolerance’ policy about guns in schools that does not countenance lack of bad intent.”
He continued saying, “The theory that people with malice will be intimidated into good conduct if people without malice are punished in lieu of them is idiocy at its finest.”
Marbut also pointed out that the state law that authorizes expulsion for bringing a gun to school, also includes a provision that says, “the trustee may authorize the school administration to modify requirement for expulsion of a student on a case-by-case basis.” In other words, the board could choose not to throw the book at Demarie.
While a zero-tolerance police like the one in place at Demarie’s school seems unreasonable to most, it is fairly common across the country, and has been since the early 1990s. At the time, its purpose – to deal with alcohol, drugs and weapons in what should be a safe environment – seemed so noble that President Clinton signed into law the Gun-Free Schools Act in 1994.
The Act requires a minimum punishment of a one-year expulsion for violations. But according to a recent study by two Michigan State University researchers that was published last May in Urban Education, zero-tolerance policies are largely ineffective and actually produce an environment that feels less safe.
Next week, the Columbia Falls schools board will decide whether Demarie deserves expulsion. Those who vote “yes” will likely ignore the growing amount of evidence that zero-tolerance laws are bad policy.
The superintendent of the Columbia Falls school district, Mike Nicosia, and Columbia Falls’ principal, Alan Robbins, have not yet returned requests for comment.