I’m sure that most readers, upon occasion, ask themselves: “self” they ask, “”how does my sanity compare with that of the average school official?”  So as a public service, I’ve prepared a brief, scientifically (in)valid quiz that should answer this persistent, pesky, perpetual–and alliterative–question.

Decision That Would Puzzle Solomon #1:  

Keychain gun

A twelve year-old middle school boy is carrying a keychain trinket, a toy gun only slightly larger than a quarter he won at an arcade, in his backpack.  The keychain accidently falls out of his backpack, and another 12-year old boy, seeing the toy, shows it to others.  School officials should:

(A) Immediately seize the gun and suspend its owner.  Zero tolerance is zero tolerance.  You can’t be too careful with deadly weapons.

(B) Ask the owner not to bring it to school again, hold the keychain until the end of the day, and send it home with him.  Phone his parents and let them know what happened.

(C) Call out the police, a SWAT team, send the child to the nearest kiddie prison, and provide counseling for every child in the area.  Hire consultants to conduct anti-bullying seminars for the entire school district.

(D) Cower in their office.  Those keychain guns are dangerous!

Answer:

If you’re a rational adult, not saddled with severe emotional and cognitive deficits, the obvious answer is “B”.  If, however, you’re a school official in Rhode Island, where this incident actually happened, the only possible answer is “A.”  That and probable counseling and a pay raise to deal with the horror of it all.

Decision That Would Puzzle Solomon #2:  

Airsoft gun

A 13 year old middle school boy is shooting a “Zombie Hunter” Airsoft gun in his yard.  He is not on school property or anywhere near school property.  He is not engaged in a school activity.  Two other middle school boys were in the same yard and may have actually touched the toy gun.  A neighbor panicked and called the police.  School officials should:

(A) Suspend all of the boys for the remainder of the school year.  Because GUN! IT’S A GUN! EYAAAAAAAAAH!

(B) Do nothing.  Schools have no authority to punish any child for conduct off school property and unrelated to any school activity.

(C) Do nothing.  Schools have no authority to punish any child for conduct off school property and unrelated to any school activity.  Punishing kids in this matter would make you look like an idiot.

(D) Do nothing.  Schools have no authority to punish any child for conduct off school property and unrelated to any school activity.  Punishing kids in this matter would make you look like an irrational, thuggish, idiot.

Answer:

If you’re a rational adult, not clinically insane and power mad, the best answer is “D”, though “B” and “C” would do as well.  If, however, you’re a school official in Virginia Beach, VA, where this incident actually happened, the only possible answer is “A.”  That and smearing the character of the student involved to anyone that will listen.

The boy that was carrying the keychain gun was suspended for three days.  As with similar cases I’ve reported, to actual adults, school authorities grossly over-reacted.  If media accounts are accurate–and there appears to be no information otherwise–no one but an anti-gun zealot could possibly mistake what is a somewhat larger than usual keychain charm for a firearm.  There was no danger, and no possibility of danger.  Not only that, there was no intent to alarm or harm anyone, and anyone viewing the toy could not reasonably be alarmed and surely could not be harmed.  The thing accidently fell out of the boy’s backpack, and another boy showed it to other kids, not the owner of the toy!

This kind of out of proportion response makes a mockery of adult discipline.  These are obviously the kind of people that would punish a child for drawing a picture of a gun, or pointing his finger and saying “bang.”  This neither upholds the spirit or letter of any rational policy.

It is the Virginia Beach outrage that establishes a new low for school officials assumption of power they don’t have and administration of discipline unwarranted by reason and law.  Consider:

Three Virginia Beach seventh graders learned their fates Tuesday morning when they were suspended for shooting airsoft guns on private property.

During a hearing with a disciplinary committee Tuesday morning, Aidan Clark, Khalid Caraballo and a third friend were given long-term suspensions in a unanimous vote. The suspensions will last until June, but a hearing will be held January 27 to determine if they will be allowed back in school sooner.

But surely there must be more to the story, something that would justify the school official’s extraordinary and apparently unlawful actions?  Consider:

I’m more than angry … it’s like an expulsion-suspension,’ said Tim Clark, Aidan’s father.

Like thousands of others in Hampton Roads, Caraballo and Clark play with airsoft guns. The boys were suspended because they shot two other friends who were with them while playing with the guns as they waited for the school bus September 12.

The two seventh graders say they never went to the bus stop with the guns; they fired the airsoft guns while on Caraballo’s private property.

Aidan’s father, Tim Clark, told WAVY.com what happened next lacks commons sense. The children were suspended for possession, handling and use of a firearm. On Tuesday, that offense was changed by school officials to possession, handling and use of an airsoft gun.

Khalid’s mother, Solangel Caraballo, thinks it is ridiculous the Virginia Beach City Public School System suspended her 13-year-old son and his friends because they were firing a spring-driven airsoft gun on the Caraballo’s private property.

‘My son is my private property,’ she said. ‘He does not become the school’s property until he goes to the bus stop, gets on the bus, and goes to school.

But there must be some connection to the school.  Perhaps they were actually shooting the toy at a school bus stop, or shot at the bus or students on or near the bus?  No.

The bus stop in question is 70 yards from the Caraballo’s front yard.

What caused all of this?  A rational adult?  You decide:

A neighbor saw Khalid shooting the airsoft gun in his front yard three days before the incident that got the boys in trouble. She told the dispatcher, ‘He is pointing the gun, and it looks like there’s a target in a tree in his front yard.’

WAVY.com located the 911 caller and spoke to her. She confirmed Khalid was taking target practice using a zombie hunter airsoft gun to kill the zombies. There was also a net behind the target to catch the plastic pellets.

The caller also knew the gun wasn’t real and said so: ‘This is not a real one, but it makes people uncomfortable. I know that it makes me [uncomfortable], as a mom, to see a boy pointing a gun,’ she told the 911 dispatcher.

Surprisingly, the 911 caller’s child was playing with the other kids in the “Airsoft gun war.”  But there was odd behavior–beyond their suspensions–in this case.  There was a second 911 caller, and the school district and the police tried to conceal that information.  It’s obvious why:

However, a second 911 call from a different caller on Sept. 12 is what schools officials say led to the investigation and then suspensions. WAVY.com was unaware of the second 911 call on Monday, during our first report of the incident. On Tuesday, Virginia Beach City Public Schools said in a Facebook post that WAVY ‘chose not to air a 911 call from September 12 … despite being made aware of its existence by police.’

Virginia Beach Police did not mention the second 911 call when WAVY’s Andy Fox called the department before his report on Monday.

Still, the second 911 call further confirms Khalid Caraballo did not leave his private property during the September 12 incident.

‘ … the white child appeared to have a gun, and he was chasing the other child … when he saw me he kind of stuck it in his pants. I don’t know if it was a toy or if they were playing,’ said the 911 caller in the Sept. 12 call.

The caller was speaking about 12-year-old Aidan Clark, who admits he ran off Caraballo’s property into the street in front of Khalid’s house.

‘I ran and chased him. I aimed to shoot, and I saw a car on the right,’ Clark said.

‘He looked directly at me and the black child kept on running,’ the 911 caller said.

Aidan was chasing a third child, who is African American and who was also suspended. Aidan says Khalid never left his property and none of the boys shot the guns while in the street.

Why is it obvious?  These are children playing as countless millions of children have played before them and as countless millions will play in the future.  No one was harmed, no one was endangered, and the schools had no cause, moral or legal, to be involved.

In an apparently desperate attempt to justify the unjustifiable, the principal of the middle school Matthew Delaney, tried to implicate the schools:

In a letter obtained by WAVY.com Delaney said his investigation found the ‘children were firing pellet guns at each other, and at people near the bus stop.’ The letter from Delaney says one child ‘was only 10 feet from the bus stop, and ran from the shots being fired, but was still hit.

Yes, a child ran, because they were playing!  Children do that sort of thing when they play.  And “he was still hit” by a soft plastic pellet, in play!  Ten feet from a bus stop–whatever that means–is, legally speaking, no different that 50 feet from a bus stop.  This kind of thinking assumes that there is a commonly and legally understood zone called a “bus stop,” and that any action by a student of which a school does not approve within 10 feet of that zone is actionable by school authorities.  Most places where school busses customarily stop are not marked, nor is there any such thing as a defined zone related to those places (yes, in some places there are such traffic laws, but that’s not what we’re discussing here).  They are defined by the changing needs of the bus drivers.

Interestingly, the local police are not pressing charges, though school officials and the police have released statements they obviously intend to be supportive of the school district’s actions, by implying that the boys might have done something improper or illegal.  As one might expect, school authorities are hiding under their desks and/or behaving like 13 year-old girls fighting over a boy:

Record release

The discipline committee on Tuesday included three elected school board members: Dottie Holtz, Bobby Melatti and Carolyn Weems. Melatti refused to give a comment to WAVY.com and the two others did not return our calls.

In a Twitter post Tuesday evening, Virginia Beach School Board Chairman Daniel Edwards attached a letter defending the school’s disciplinary actions against the boys: ‘Yet somehow student safety has taken a back seat in the intense media coverage of this case. This is not an example of a public educator overreaching. This was not zero tolerance at all. This was a measured response to a threat to student safety.’

In the statement, Edwards also released information about Khalid’s previous discipline problems at school. His parents told 10 On Your Side they are upset by that and said they signed a waiver for the school system to talk to WAVY about the airsoft incident only.

“Student safety has taken a back seat?”  It was a “measured response to a threat to student safety?”  Notice what is missing, and missing in every account of this incident I’ve seen (I’ve reviewed eight, local and national): any attempt by school authorities to actually place any of the supposedly dangerous actions of the boys on school property–as opposed to ten or so feet from a nebulous “bus stop”–or to associate it with any school activity.

I hesitate to deal with the city codes because they are not actually relevant to any action by school authorities in this case, but just to demonstrate how far supposedly reasonable adults are reaching:

City Code 38-3, primarily section (d)  ‘Notwithstanding any other provisions of this section, it shall be unlawful for any person to discharge any firearm, spring-propelled rifle or pistol, from, on, across or within one hundred fifty (150) yards of any building, dwelling, street, sidewalk, alley, roadway or public land or public place within the city limits.’

Section (f)  ‘No person shall use a pneumatic gun in the area of the city described in (a) above except (i) at approved shooting ranges or (ii) on or within private property with permission of the owner or legal possessor thereof when conducted with reasonable care to prevent a projectile from crossing the bounds of the property. For purposes of this subsection, “pneumatic gun” means any implement designed as a gun that will expel a BB or a pellet by action of pneumatic pressure, including but not limited to paintball guns. Further, for the purpose of this subsection ‘reasonable care’ means that the pneumatic gun is discharged in a manner so the projectile is contained on the property by a backstop, earthen embankment or fence. The discharge of projectiles across or over the bounds of the property shall create the rebuttable presumption that the use of the pneumatic gun was not conducted with reasonable care and shall constitute a Class 3 misdemeanor.

Notice that these provisions of the same law contradict each other.  The Airsoft gun in question propels soft plastic pellets by means of a spring, not by an impulse of air or any other gas.  And one provision forbids shooting them anywhere near a building–even on one’s own property–while another allows it with some restrictions.  I suspect the local legislators that wrote this law did not intend to implicate harmless children’s toys, but in the east, one can’t even be certain of that level or rationality.  This is obviously a law that is unconstitutionally vague, apparently written by people who may hate and do not understand guns of any kind, but want to restrict or ban them all in one way or another.  If harmless toys are caught up in their attempts to achieve anti-gun utopia, and children are punished for being children, so be it.  And again, remember that the police are not filing charges in this case.

Final Thoughts:

The ultimate issue here goes beyond anti-gun hysteria and zero-tolerance stupidity.  Schools are not all-powerful entities with unlimited jurisdiction.  Their responsibility for the children of others has obvious, easily understood limits.  While students are on school busses or in other school vehicles, they are subject to school discipline.  When they are in school, or actively involved in a school activity, even if in another city, they are subject to school discipline.  When they are on school property, they are subject to school discipline, but there are rational limits.

If during the summer when school is not in session, several children run onto school property in a continuing imaginary epic battle, and shoot at each other with Airsoft guns before running down the street, should they be suspended from school in the Fall?  Should children wearing clothing out of their school’s dress code on school property in the evening, when school is not in session and no one is present, be punished for violating the dress code?  Obviously such punishment would be excessive and irrational and would diminish respect for school authority.  It would surely not contribute to an orderly school climate.

Again, if this situation is as the parents of the children involved are representing it–and the statements of the school authorities would seem to confirm that it is–the school authorities have acted lawlessly.  They cannot be allowed to extend the doctrine of in loco parentis–in the place of the parents–to circumstances neither wanted by parents or rationally necessary for establishing and maintaining good order in the schools.  Government must have strictly and clearly limited powers, and this obviously applies to schools.

Even if the child involved has committed prior disciplinary infractions, if the school has no lawful authority to act, those infractions are meaningless.  So it appears to be here.

Once again, educators have given potent ammunition to those who unfairly disparage public schools and those who work in them.  Unfortunately this time, those critical of the schools are more than correct and justified in their criticism.

And my job as a teacher, even on the other side of the nation, just got a little harder.

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