Written by Patricia Hawke for

In the news recently, a middle school student – a 14 year old boy, to be precise – was suspended from Arizona Schools because of a drawing he made while sitting in class. No teacher wants to find his or her student doodling, but must admit that not all students will be as enamored of their subject as the teacher is.
The Arizona Schools district the boy attends has a zero tolerance policy concerning weapons; this includes drawing them, or even writing about them. In response to the Columbine massacre in 1999, most Arizona Schools have some version of such a policy in place. (Approximately 96% of all Arizona Schools have a zero-tolerance policy.)
Understandably, schools need to send the message that it is not okay to bring weapons to school. Nobody wants to see another Columbine. We must do all in our power to stop the violence, and this must include educating students about the harm an atmosphere of fear can do. Students who go to school every day afraid for their lives because they don’t know if they’ll be attacked or not are not learning, which is the principle purpose for attending school in the first place. Arizona Schools understand this, and have sent the message that they will tolerate no weapons, in any form, even on paper.
Supporters of zero-tolerance policies in place in Arizona Public Schools (and across the nation) say that this sends the message that the schools are concerned about the safety of their students, and are pro-active in the education and prevention of violence in the schools. They believe that such a policy, and the punishments, should be on view for the world to see. They feel that this will frighten the students into behaving themselves.
In fact, this message conflicts with the reasons zero-tolerance policies are in place in such systems as the ones in Arizona Schools. Supporters believe that the fear of being punished will “scare them straight.
Detractors to zero-tolerance policies in Arizona Schools and elsewhere have many concerns. They worry that the policies are unfair, rigid, create fear for students, and infringe upon a person’s right to express themselves. While it’s important to have a safe and secure learning environment, it’s easy to see that individual consideration should be given to some situations like the one involving the student from Arizona Schools. Those opposed to zero-tolerance policies like the one in place for Arizona Schools object because of the probability of punishing students who may have made mistakes, as opposed to those planning to commit a criminal act. A 14-year-old boy (or girl) is an enigma; peer pressure, work load at school, and wildly fluctuating hormones are all new challenges that these young teens have to deal with. These kids aren’t known for their excellent decision making skills; the case of the Arizona Schools student is an example of this.
The Arizona Schools should reconsider this boy’s “infraction” and determine if he’s really and truly a threat. That would send a message that the Arizona Schools system is sensitive to the diversity of its students.