The Accidental Public School Criminal

Seven-year-old Samuel Burgos was playing with a toy gun like millions of children do every day. In an effort to hide the toy from a sibling, he stuck it in a bag. Later, forgetting the toy was there, he took the bag to school. For this grievous offense, he was suspended and then expelled under the school’s zero-tolerance weapons policy, which apparently applies to clear, plastic toys in the approximate shape of a firearm being carried by forgetful seven-year-olds. Poor Burgos never removed the toy from his bag, never threatened anybody, and never intended any harm. Despite this, his academic record is now blighted with expulsion and his family is forced to find him alternative academic arrangements (they are home-schooling him for now).

This easily could have been me. When I was in school, I was a Boy Scout. My backpack sometimes served school purposes during the week and Boy Scout purposes on the weekend. Usually this posed no problem, but at least a couple of times I discovered (either during the school day or after) that I had left some Boy Scout accoutrement in one of the bag’s pockets. More than once, I unintentionally took a pocket-knife, matches, or some other so-called ‘weapon’ to school. I never took them out of the bag, never intended any harm, never threatened anybody . . . but if I had been caught in the midst of this honest, harmless mistake, I would have shared Burgos’s fate.

A sufficient punishment for a minor error like this that results in no harm? Um, how about a stern talking-to and sending the child home to his parents for the day? That’s probably the ‘upper limit.’ Trying to permanently derail the student’s life is obvious overkill. Shouldn’t we be teaching our children that punishments should be proportional to crimes?

If Burgos had brought a real gun to school (without any ill intent), that would warrant a year’s expulsion easily. With ill intent, maybe permanent expulsion. But we’re not talking about a real gun, we’re talking about a toy. And we’re not talking about an angry, anti-social teenager, we’re talking about a seven-year-old. We’re talking about a ‘crime’ that, in reality, probably only warranted the confiscation of the toy for the day as a potential distraction and a stern reminder that such things shouldn’t be brought to school. The end. ‘Problem’ solved, and no lives destroyed.

Once more, we are seeing a public school system so hung-up on hyper-disciplinarianism that it can’t even see the abject absurdity of its actions. Our schools don’t have time to spend a single day in twelve years teaching the history of the Weimar Republic (for example), but they seem to have plenty of time for insane over-punishment, anti-‘anarchist’ harassment, publication censorship, idiotic dress codes, urination enforcement, being a drug dispensary, monitoring private parties, taking illegal photos of students in their homes, harassing students for loving their country, and more. And we wonder why our education system ranks so low among ‘first world’ nations.

Scott Bradford has been putting his opinions on his website since 1995—before most people knew what a website was. He has been a professional web developer in the public- and private-sector for over twenty years. He is an independent constitutional conservative who believes in human rights and limited government, and a Catholic Christian whose beliefs are summarized in the Nicene Creed. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from George Mason University. He loves Pink Floyd and can play the bass guitar . . . sort-of. He’s a husband, pet lover, amateur radio operator, and classic AMC/Jeep enthusiast.