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Tammy Messina: The debate on safety in our schools

Posted: February 8, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 8, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

Between the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and all the subsequent talk about gun control and what the Second Amendment really means, we’re seeing more and more school-related "weapons" incidents.

No one disagrees that safety in our schools is a top priority, but there is much debate as to what we need to do to ensure that safety.

Most schools have clearly defined weapons policies with "zero tolerance" enforcement that have been in place for years.

Though intended to keep our children safe, these policies also teach our children valuable life lessons. Here is a sampling of the headlines since the beginning of 2013.

Ten-year-old arrested for brandishing a weapon.

Second-grader faces suspension for tossing an imaginary grenade.

Six-year-old boys suspended for playing cops and robbers and using their fingers as guns.

A 5-year-old girl receives 10-day suspension for saying a friend "I’ll shoot you, you shoot me, and we’ll all play together."

Are these incidents becoming more frequent or are they just finally getting attention from the media?

The 10-year-old arrested by police for brandishing a weapon was transported to a juvenile detention center for booking, suspended from school, and is now facing expulsion. The "weapon" was a plastic toy gun.

The second-grader who tossed the "imaginary grenade" was playing by himself and tossed the invisible "grenade" into an empty box as he pretended to be a heroic soldier rescuing the world from an evil threat lurking inside the box. He may be suspended for breaking the school’s rule of "no weapons, real or imaginary."

The incident that garnered the 5-year-old girl a 10-day suspension was classified as a "terrorist threat." It was later reduced to a two-day suspension and classified as a "threat to harm others."

How, exactly, does setting a play date with a school friend to shoot and be shot at with her pink Hello Kitty Bubble Gun constitute a "threat to harm others"?

Six-year-olds playing with finger guns is now a suspend-able infraction?

Are we really considering this to be a serious threat? Do we really believe that this sort of child’s-play leads to more dangerous violence as children get older? Or are we blowing things out of proportion?

Elementary-aged children like to pretend. We, as adults, encourage them to use their imaginations in playful ways.

At what point does fun-loving, imaginary game-playing cross over and become threatening and potentially harmful?

When our children are at school, we’re entrusting that care and judgment to school officials. With so many children, it’s impossible to have adult eyes on every child all the time. But there are ways to evaluate situations like those mentioned above.

It’s hard for us as readers to make an educated judgment call from the details (or lack thereof) in most of the stories as to whether or not the suspensions were truly warranted. Students’ behavioral histories and records are not readily available.

One would hope that the schools are looking at these types of infractions on a case-by-case basis, carefully considering the child’s behavioral history and intent to harm or not harm.

Based on the suspension reversals, that doesn’t seem to be the overriding theme.

So what, exactly, are schools trying to teach our kids with zero-tolerance weapons policies (which include real AND imaginary weapons)?

Most obviously, we’re teaching them that they cannot have weapons on a school campus. That’s a good thing, though I do question the severity of punishment in these recently reported infractions.

Not so good is that we are also teaching them that guns, and weapons in general, are bad, and potentially even that law enforcement and the military are bad.

What we really need to be teaching our children is to value life. Guns — and weapons in general, real or imaginary — are not bad, nor are people with guns who are handling them responsibly.

There is a middle ground and we, our educators included, are responsible for finding it and imparting it to our youth.

Teaching our next generation to value life, respect authority and aspire to be heroes are not Republican values; they’re American values.

Tammy Messina is a resident of Santa Clarita, a local business owner and a producer for "The Real Side Radio Show." She can be reached at tmessina@wildcat.la.

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