February 23rd, 2010 5:33 pm | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Schools

Zero Tolerance: Portland Public Schools' Weapons Policy

Gi Joe with toygun Duniway

Aron Anderson, father of an 8-year-old third grader at Duniway Elementary School, went before the Portland School Board last night to complain about his son's recent suspension. According to Anderson, his son forgot he had a toy gun in his pocket when he went to school recently. But after the boy showed the four-inch plastic toy (pictured above and below) to a friend, he was suspended for a day. Later, according to the dad's testimony, Deputy Superintendent Greg Baker upheld the decision.

Anderson wants the district to reverse the decision and remove the letter on the topic from his son's permanent file. But the district is following its policy to the letter. "They're taking it way too far," Anderson says.

How far is too far is an interesting question. Below is a graph outlining the district's policy on weapons violations. "Level 3" violations correspond to a punishment that includes suspension. "Level 5" is expulsion. "Level 6" is a mandatory one-year expulsion. Under the current guidelines, bringing to school a 4-inch toy gun that wouldn't frighten Barbie can carry the same punishment as bringing a weapon capable of causing death or serious injury.

PPS Weapon

An incident earlier this school year at Benson High School serves as a counterpoint to the Duniway case. This fall, a high school student was found to have a knife classified as a "dangerous weapon" at school. According to PPS policy, possible punishments range from "Level 3" to "Level 6."

The student also allegedly wrote a threat against a teacher, whom the student identified, in one of the high school's bathrooms. But following an expulsion hearing, Benson Principal Steve Olczak weighed the individual student's needs and decided expelling the student was not the answer. Instead, the school placed a number of conditions on the student that limited his time at school outside of class.

Incidentally, both students are white. Was either suspension fair?

Update at 4:55 pm: Just got off the phone with Jollee Patterson, general counsel for PPS. She said the Duniway case has "demonstrated the need to review the policy." So stay tuned.

Toy Gun Duniway
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