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Are zero-tolerance policies at school targeting harmless kids?

School officials around the country have been reacting to the specter of the Sandy Hook shooting by targeting harmless behavior among some very young students, University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds argued in a USA Today op-ed.

The most recent case Reynolds cites was a Maryland kindergartner suspended for 10 days after being interrogated and wetting his pants because he brought an orange-tipped cap gun on the bus to show a friend.

"The 5-year old was suspended Wednesday after showing the orange-tipped toy to a friend on the morning bus ride to school," The Washinton Post reported. "The child told his mother later that he had tucked the cap gun into his backpack that day because he 'really, really' wanted to show it to his friend. The friend had shown him a water gun on a previous bus ride."

Earlier this year, a kindergartner in South Carolina was banned from school property for the rest of the school year after she brought a clear plastic toy gun for show and tell. And in March, a Maryland 7-year old was suspended for nibbling a pop tart into the shape of a gun. Last week, a school in Hayward, Calif., announced a toy gun buyback, offering a book and a ticket for a bicycle raffle to kids who turn in their toy guns.

"What's up with this?" Reynolds asked in his USA Today piece. "It's not based on any concern with safety. Lego guns, cap guns, bubble guns, nibbled Pop Tarts and fingers are no threat to safety. And the wild overreaction in these cases says there's more going on here than simple school discipline. As I said, who treats a 5-year-old this way? It smacks of fanaticism.

"In fact," Reynolds continued, "it seems like a kind of quasi-religious fanaticism. I think it's about the administrative class — which runs the schools with as little input from parents as possible — doing its best to exterminate the very idea of guns. It's some sort of wacky moral-purity crusade. If a few toddlers have to suffer along the way, that's tough. You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs."

"The case comes at a time of heightened sensitivity about guns in schools across the country," The Washington Post noted of the 5-year-old being suspended for bringing his orange-tipped cap gun to school. "Locally, children in first and second grade have been disciplined for pointing their fingers like guns and for chewing a Pop Tart-like pastry into the shape of a gun. In Pennsylvania, a 5-year-old was suspended for talking about shooting a Hello Kitty bubble gun that blows soap bubbles."



Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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