EDITORIAL: Common sense vs. policy

York Dispatch

No one expects a kindergartner to display good judgment.

Ask anyone who's had one around the house. Ask anyone who's ever been one.

But don't ask the York City School Board.

The board recently expelled a kindergarten student for 45 days after the child brought a Taser to school. No one was hurt by the weapon, which was immediately confiscated.

No one spoke about why the child had the weapon or if he or she knew how to use it or even what it was when the board was deciding on the punishment — at least not before the board adjourned to an executive session to discuss it behind closed doors.

By a 6-1 vote, with Michael Breeland casting the lone no vote, the board followed zero-tolerance protocol and expelled the youngster for the first nine weeks of the school year that begins in August.

Citing advice from the board's solicitor, board president Margie Orr said it would be a violation of state law and district policy to forego punishment because of the child's age.

That is such a sad statement on our culture.

School boards would have to violate the law to make the common-sense judgment that a kindergartner might not even know what the device is.

We know that there have been terrible acts of violence committed in schools, even in local schools. We know that there is a lot of violence in York City, and that some of that happens on school grounds.

The same night they expelled the kindergartner, the board also expelled an 11th-grader, a ninth-grader and a first-grader who brought a variety of knives and blades to school. The older students should have known better, and the two knives in the hands of a first-grader could have caused some damage.

But a kindergartner with a Taser, which delivers an incapacitating shock, should not be taken out of school when it's not clear the child is aware of what he or she is doing. Their parents are the more obvious choice for interrogation and consequences, and we hope the school held them accountable for the incident.

At 5 years old, children have well-developed language skills, according to a child development tracker at A kindergarten student knows the letters of the alphabet and is starting to see how they go together to create words, sentences and ideas. They can count and are learning addition and subtraction.

Five-year-olds are becoming more balanced and coordinated and can learn to ride a bike, swim and jump rope. They want to know how the world works and are learning to make friends and also how to negotiate and compromise before seeking adult help with social situations, according to the website.

Frankly, that doesn't add up to a person able to make a decision to take a weapon to school one day.

That's why we're saying, as we've said before, zero tolerance is just a bad policy.

The National Association of School Psychologists agrees.

"'Zero Tolerance' initially was defined as consistently enforced suspension and expulsion policies in response to weapons, drugs and violent acts in the school setting," the association's website says.

But that has morphed into bringing out the big guns for lower levels of rule infractions, resulting in a policy that is "complex, costly and generally ineffective."

Every case should be decided based its particular circumstances.

If a school board can't be trusted to give varied and appropriate punishments to a kindergartner with a Taser and a high school junior with razor blades, then we need to find some adults who can.