|Andrew Mikel II and unknown thug|
This offense to common sense is happening because of our ZERO TOLERANCE policies for weapons in schools. Although they may seem like a good idea, zero tolerance policies are a public relations ploy with often disastrous consequences for kids. These policies leave no room for individual discretion, mitigating circumstances, or application of consequences when a child commits a violation. Bring a weapon to school and you get expelled. It seems to make sense, but in reality, it often does not. For instance, in Mikel's case, despite the reluctance of the school's hearing officer to expel Mikel, school officials insisted. They claimed that his pellet spitter was a "projectile weapon" because it was "used to intimidate, threaten, or harm others" and that the federal Guns Free School Act mandated that he be expelled. While I don't condone shooting plastic BBs at fellow students, I really don't think Mikel's behavior warranted expulsion and criminal charges, both of which will now be on his record permanently.
I've seen teen lives ruined by zero tolerance policies run amok. I once worked with an 16 year old- adolescent male who was at risk of dropping out of high school due to truancy, poor grades, and behavior problems. His was the case where I first learned the Southern expression "showing his butt," which means "showing disrespect." Had I known this initially, I would not have wasted 10 minutes looking for a kid with his pants down at the high school! But I digress. I saw this kid for twice weekly counseling and helped him manage his time, his impulsiveness, and his anger problems. I consulted with his teachers to help keep him succeed in class. His grades began to improve and it looked like he might be on target to graduate. Then, one morning, someone spotted his hunting rifle in the gun rack on his truck where he'd left it after a weekend of hunting. His truck was parked in the student lot at the high school. The kid didn't even realize he'd left the gun in the truck. He was immediately expelled from school. He never returned to school and never graduated.
Again, that gun should NEVER have been on school property. It could have been a dangerous situation. But it wasn't. The student had no history of threatening others or carrying weapons of any type (other than legally hunting). He did have a history of poor time management and forgetfulness. Might it not have made more sense to suspend him for a few days, require a gun safety class, and perhaps have him do some community service rather than expel him from school? Why create one more person without a high school diploma who will now face poorer job prospects and have even more anger at the system?
Kids should be held responsible for their actions. However, the consequences should fit the crime, and we shouldn't criminalize childish misbehavior.