There is a long history of school administrators behaving like bullies when enforcing the irrational zero-tolerance policies that have ensnared scores of students. A recent case out of Vernon, N.J., however, suggests that the hysterical enforcement of these policies in some schools has reached a level where an actual peer bully can exploit zero-tolerance to torment a victim.
This latest incident began as Glenn Meadow Middle School seventh grader Ethan Chaplin was holding a pencil with a pen cap on the end while in class. Accounts of how Ethan was holding or gestering with the writing implement differ, but school officials were alerted to the matter after a student sitting behind Ethan shouted, “He’s making gun motions, send him to juvie.” According to News 12 New Jersey, Ethan contends he had been bullied by the same student earlier in the day.
Claiming they had no choice but to act on the taunt, school administrators removed Ethan from school and forced him to undergo a lengthy mental and physical evaluation before he could return. Describing the evaluation to one news source, Ethan’s father, Michael Chaplin, stated, “The child was stripped, had to give blood samples (which caused him to pass out) and urine samples for of all things drug testing… . Then four hours later a social worker spoke to him for five minutes and cleared him. Then an actual doctor came in and said the state was 100 percent incorrect in their procedure and this would not get him back in school.”
Following a public outcry, Vernon Township School District Superintendent Charles Maranzano defended the school district’s actions. Maranzano told The Huffington Post, “When a student misbehaves or displays actions that are non-conforming or don’t meet our expectations, it causes us some concerns.” While stories like Ethan’s are unfortunately all too common, the use of invasive medical procedures is a new escalation of what is already one of the most shameful fronts in the cultural war on guns in America, aimed as it is on harmless youth displaying normal childish behavior.
This is just the latest incident illustrating the importance of legislation introduced in Florida and Oklahoma aimed at curbing the abuse of zero-tolerance policies. The Florida legislation, HB 7029, known by some as the “Right to be Kids” Act, states:
Simulating a firearm or weapon while playing or wearing clothing … that depict[s] a firearm or weapon or express[es] an opinion regarding a right guaranteed by the Second Amendment … is not grounds for disciplinary action or referral [for prosecution].”
The legislation still allows for school officials to discipline pupils when their actions substantially disrupt the school environment.
With at least some students now aware that they can exact misery on their classmates by accusing them of zero-tolerance policy violations, remedying the hypersensitive status quo has never been more important. School districts should exhibit common-sense when dealing with cases of ordinary childish behavior to prevent their students from becoming the victims of bullying … be it from peers or overzealous school officials.