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Zero-tolerance, a dangerous word?

    I hadn't really thought much about the word "zero-tolerance" until I read about the controversy over the first grader suspended from school for bringing his Cub Scout eating utensil to school to use at lunch.

If you haven't seen The Times story or AOL's version, here's what happened: little Zachary Christie, 6, was excited with his new camping tool but now faces 45 days in reform school after officials determined the camping utensil he brought to school to eat his lunch with violated the school district's ban on knives. The utensil functions as a fork, spoon and knife. The school district says it has a zero-tolerance policy on weapons.

   Like school districts, many workplaces have zero-tolerance policies on weapons, too. As a parent, I instilled a zero-tolerance policy at my home this weekend to prohibit bad words. While zero-tolerance policies have tremendous upside, I am starting to see how they can be dangerous, too. When you can never make an exception, you must be pretty clear to all those who must abide about what violates the policy. If you have a zero-tolerance policy on weapons at your workplace, you better be clear about whether someone can bring a knife to cut a birthday cake (this incident resulted in a real lawsuit). If I have zero-tolerance for bad words at home, I have to be super strict when the policy is violated....will I be able to enforce my rule without exception?

Of course, bad words are way different from weapons. In South Florida, we have seen firsthand what can happen when weapons are brought to school. The community was outraged when a Coral Gables high school student was alleged to have been murdered with a knife by another student in the hallway last month.

    When it comes to safety and rules at work, at school, at home, is zero tolerance really the only way to go? Is it dangerous to set a policy where there are no exceptions or is it required in today's society?


 (Zachary Christie as he appeared in The New York Times)


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While this does elicit a sense that this is unfair, for me the questions were whether in any organization it is "OK" for a 6 year old to carry a knife. I'm not even sure that cub scouts are allowed at that age.

Further were the parents aware of the zero tolerance policy? Even if they weren't, they should have paused to consider the possible consequences.

Jill Dolan

I'm from the Newark, DE area and know of this family. I don't believe the parents were aware he was going to bring it to school. The mom is the co-president of the school's PTA, so I would think she was aware of the policy. Same thing could have happened to us, I check my kids' backpacks after school, but not always before school.

The school board does have the power to intervene here, let's hope they do.

Same thing happened in this district last year - an girl's grandmother sent her to school with a birthday cake and a knife to cut it with . . the teacher called the principal, but only after using the knife to cut the cake. The school board intervened and she was allowed to return to school. Hopefully the same common sense will prevail here.


The rules apply to everyone, and too bad, they cannot be bent for this little boy. You have to change the rules first, not knowingly break the rules and then say you don't deserve to be punished. No one forced him to bring something to school/he brought it on his own volition, and he was not threatened by a bully to do it.

Regardless, this knife could've fallen into the wrong hands, and at my school, we used to all have real forks. When you have one person do something, it messes it up for everyone else. I wouldn't doubt that all plastic silverware is now used in schools, as I graduated right before the Columbine tragedy.

Before that happened, my brother was class of 2000, and rumor was going around school that someone was going to hurt some kids at school one day. Well, I was determined that wasn't going to happen to my brother, so I was a VISITOR at the school that day. Everyone knew why I was there... and thank God, nothing happened. Sadly though, it did happen at someone else's school.


At my school, we had peer mediation as an alternative to snitching to the administration, and that got the paper trail going in a non-confrontational way and stopped the b.s. before it even went down.I'm sorry Zachary Christie, but the rules are the rules, so what makes you think that you're any different?? Sure the rules may not mean that you're a danger with your spork/knife combo, but that doesn't mean someone else couldn't be if they stole it from you at lunch. COWBOY UP!
To the little girl whose grandmother sent a knife to cut the cake in class -- duh, there are plastic spatula cake cutters!!
To everyone else, get real! If something happened to your kid, because the school allowed/permitted these types of things, you'd be the first ones to sue the school!!! Yet when your kid gets in trouble, you're the parent who is like -- "oh, not MY child!".

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