Our View: State guidance needed on school weapons policies

/ 13 May 2014 / Shawna

Editorial, Mankato Free Press, May 13, 2014 – Why it matters: The current patchwork of ‘zero-tolerance’ and other weapons policies are not serving districts well.

The mess created in the Wells school district highlights the confusing mix of interpretations and policies regarding weapons in schools.

Citing the district’s zero-tolerance policy, the United South Central School Board voted unanimously in April to support Supt. Jerry Jensen’s recommendation that 17-year-old Alyssa Drescher be expelled through the end of the school year. Her crime? Forgetting she had a pocketknife, which she’d used to do farm work, inside her purse in her locker.

The controversial expulsion is being appealed to state education officials by Drescher and her parents.

Unfortunately, schools do not have the clear guidance they need when it comes to setting weapons policies, and more importantly interpreting their policies.

USC, like many schools, modeled their policy on a zero-tolerance policy drafted by the Minnesota School Boards Association.

It is time the term “zero tolerance” be dropped as it is inaccurate and confusing to all. If a school has no tolerance for any weapon in a school, it would logically mean they will always expel any student who violates the rule, even by mistake.

But the School Boards Association policy says the superintendent does have the authority to recommend less serious punishment be given out. So which is it? Zero tolerance or some tolerance when it’s reasonable?

The zero tolerance stance also puts school board members in a bind. They are put in the position of having to stand up for their “zero tolerance” rule if asked to by their superintendent, even if they may know it’s an over-reaction.

The weapons policy issue deserves some attention from state lawmakers and stated education officials. Certainly they could develop a model policy that is clearer and fair.

Everyone wants and expects safe schools. But weapons policies need to be more nuanced to take into account things such as intent, a student’s past history and the level of risk in any given case.