A question of student safety

A couple of students from Eagan and Apple Valley have been expelled from school, because they bought souvenir samurai swords while on a spring-break choir trip to the UK, thus violating, apparently, the rule against buying samurai swords on spring break trips.

“The severity of the punishment didn’t fit the crime here,” Brad Briggs the father of one of the expelled teens, told the school board the other night according to the Pioneer Press.

The other student — a she — had bought a Lord of the Rings replica sword for her father for Father’s Day.

The expelled student is a Boy Scout, Sunday school teacher, and member of the choir and while it’s not out of the question that a Boy Scouting , Sunday school teaching singer could inflict some harm with a sword all duct-taped up in a cardboard box, where exactly is the threat that justifies an expulsion?

“Schools are in a real Catch-22,” said Charlie Kyte, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. He cited a case of a popular student who brought a toy gun to school when he was the boss in Northfield. He had to expel him. He said another student was expelled for bringing “a big knife” to school.

Similar? How?

The kids who’ve been expelled didn’t bring anything to school; they bought something while on a class trip. A chaperone confiscated the swords in the UK and they never made it to the New World. The administrators say they had to protect the other kids and the board cited the district’s student policy. Here’s the rules and policies section of the district’s Web site.

Perhaps there’s more to the story that “confidentiality” is preventing from being discussed. According to the policy, had the students been found in “possession of bullets, other projectiles designed to be used in a weapon or other material designed to cause pain or injury,” the punishment is a 5-day suspension for the first offense and expulsion on the second offense. In that school district, you get a 3-day suspension for actually inflicting bodily harm, and that’s only after the second time you do it.

What do you think? We expect our schools to protect students. Is this appropriate punishment or overreaction?

  • Alison

    The school is clearly protecting their students from the evils of common sense and the ability to use reason to determine the difference between real threats and invented ones.

  • Lesli

    If the spring-break choir trip was sponsored and hosted by the school district, I’d assume the rules apply to students regardless of geography.

    The real dilemma is how to administer policies in the Catch-22 world Mr. Kyte references. Is there a sub-committee assigned to map out the shades of grey? Of course not. Instead, we have folks doing the best they can when their only choices seem to be black and white.

  • Anita

    Yet another example of zero tolerance making zero sense when applied, as Allison suggests, with an utter lack of common sense. There has to be something left out of the story, in order to justify the harsh punishment for a couple of seemingly innocent purchases made by students.

  • Bob Collins

    I guess I’d be interested in the threat. Is it to the kids on the trip? Or the kids back home? If it’s the kids on the trip, wouldn’t it be a bigger threat if it wasn’t duct taped in a cardboard box?

    And is there room for a punishment that considers context? Is the boy scout, church school, choir joining kid who raised money — presumably — to go on a trip to the UK, who has –and this is obviously hypothetical — not been a “problem,” different than, say, the loner who is anti-social, who draws pictures of dead people and has a blog that — while not illegal — is at least creepy?

    In a way, it’s a metaphor for society, I guess. Is there context for the rules? Or are rules just rules?

  • Dave Sours

    I agree with Lesli that the rules apply regardless of geography.

    However, I think the confiscation of the swords was adequate. Clearly the kids did not intend to use them in any malicious manner, nor were they posing any kind of threat to the students on the trip (which was the opportunity for the swords to pose a threat if they were ever going to).

    This was a case of the kids not understanding the rules, at least not their applicability to school trips. This was not a case of willful disregard of the rules (unlike bringing toy guns and big knives to school). They received a certain degree of punishment in having their purchases confiscated. Suspension taught nothing that they hadn’t already learned, and given their lack of criminal intent, it was unwarranted.

  • Bob Collins

    They were also sent home early from their trip.

  • c

    I think the reaction was a bit over the top. According to the article, these kids were just kids buying souvenirs from another country. This is where the parents need to get together and amend the rule or organize a committee that does take care of instances such as this one.

    Honestly I don’t even think that this story covers a gray area at all. I think that common sense would have taken care of the issue of whether the school rule applies.

  • Tuffy

    Two facts:

    1) The same policies apply to student inside of the physical school building as they do to students outside of the physical school building while on a school-sponsored activity. Your example takes place on a schoo-sponsored activity.

    2) Zero tolerance is a must. Like it or not, such policies, whether they deal with weapons or with other, more minor behavioral disciplining measures, serve to protect while also being objective. While some comments claim zero tolerance contradicts common sense, let me ask you this: would you rather the discipline policies enacted by the school were subjective or objective?

    Kudos to Eagan and Apple Valley schools for holding their ground. This is the right decision.

  • Snuffy

    I agree, there are probably details we are not aware of.

    If I were still a kid…and if I were away from home, buying a souvenir sword…it would not have gone directly from the shop into a taped-up cardboard box.

    I suspect the “between time” was filled with a lot of giggling, and waving swords around in hotel rooms, and buddies poking each other with swords, and girls shrieking and jokes. And then everything got boxed up.

    And then the next day, a student mentions a sword. And then a chaperone asks a question about a sword. And then things go downhill and everyone reacts and over-reacts.

    I’d love to spend some time perusing myspace and facebook pages to get the “real” story, cuz I doubt it will show up in the media.

  • c

    Expalltion?

    I think that is a bit drastic and if I were the parents I would get a petition going amoung the teachers and parents.

    This kind of information will go on thier school record. That is not a good thing to have when you are applying for higher education or employment.

    Huuuuge blemish.

  • dwp4401

    The administrator who expelled these two kids should be fired immediately. Any school board member who defends the District’s action should be subject to recall, or at least, be tarred, feathered and riden out of town on a rail.

    What a Joke!

  • BUFFY

    I agree with Bob-

    Its not like these two are some weirdos who draw pictures of dead people and are in to cutting themselves and bring their ‘artistic utensils’ (knives) to school and get caught.

    The perpetrator taught sunday school and both were on a band field trip. They bought souvenirs and the souvenirs could have been taken away until the trip was over.

  • sceptre1067

    I think Zero Tolerance is a joke… It’s a nice bandage that allows the administration to not have to think about student issues and instead apply a one size fits all approach.

    And as pointed out, the school isn’t even following it’s own policies.

    So thanks for teaching kids, yet again, that adults are stupid, shouldn’t be listened to, and that “the man” is out to get you.

  • Mark Gisleson

    Overly protective parents have united with cowardly school administrators to create “RULES” that trump common sense. Why? Because school administrators are no longer tough enough to stand up to overprotective parents, and this crap is the result.

    Hire principals with integrity and let them run our schools. Don’t hamstring them with zero tolerance nonsense. What exactly do people think pushes unbalanced students into violence in the first place? Not enough rules?

  • GregS

    The difference between a rule making sense and defying common sense can be explained in a single word: lawyers.

  • Mark Gisleson

    I don’t think it’s fair to blame lawyers because overly protective parents hire attorneys when they fail to bully school administrators into these ridiculous measures. I’m not aware of any lawyer-initiated lawsuits, just parents with lawyers.

    We’ve got two groups of kids growing up in this country: those who know the streets all too well, and those who spend their live indoors or in minivans going from one indoor location to the next.

    But the worst part of this fiasco is that there has been ZERO school violence involving swords. Here’s a tip for school administrators: if attacked by a sword-wielding student, pick up a chair. A chair will beat a sword 9 times out of 10. Against guns, chairs don’t do quite so well, but they’re fine for taking out deranged fencers.

  • Doug

    As a teacher (in a different district than the subject), I must agree with Lesli. When you’re working with such a diverse group of people, black and white rules are necessary! In terms of weapons, this is especially true.

    One thing that was not mentioned, that I saw, was that souvenir samurai swords are less dangerous than forks. They are meant for the wall, or a case and are not sharp.

    When I traveled with high school students to Japan two years ago, the solution was students could purchase these items so long as they paid to have them shipped home from the shop they purchased them at. We trusted that the kids knew what was expected from their families and what would be appropriate.