Measure could amend zero-tolerance policy

The federal statute requiring students, who bring firearm or drugs to elementary or secondary schools, be expelled for a full year might see a change in Virginia.

By Chris Suarez | Capital News Service

The federal statute requiring students who bring firearm or drugs to elementary or secondary schools be expelled for a full year might see a change in Virginia if state Senate Bill 441 passes.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Thomas Garrett, R-Hadensville, seeks to offer leniency under certain circumstances to children facing expulsion or suspension.

“We have a bunch of wonderful professional educators in the Commonwealth of Virginia, but they’re not lawyers,” Garrett said. “When you have a federal bill that dictates ‘zero-tolerance policy’ you end up with administrators and educators who think their hands are tied, and they have to expel.”

Federal mandate states students who bring firearms or drugs on to school property “shall” face a suspension or expulsion. The bill, written to clarify the mandate seeks to substitute the word “may” for “shall,” when there is no real firearm or drugs involved Garrett said.

Examples of children across the country who’ve faced expulsion for imitating weapons with objects such as pencils, or fingers, or passing off kitchen spices for illicit drugs are the reason why Garrett says he’s introducing the bill.

“Where there’s a real gun or real narcotics, I can see a zero-tolerance threshold,” Garrett said. “But when there’s a kid with a Pop Tart, a pencil, or his finger saying ‘pow,’ it’s nuts.”

This past September, two Virginia Beach minors were suspended for shooting an airsoft gun near a school bus stop. The families of the two 13-year-old students appealed the decision saying the minors shot the pneumatic gun on private property.

The language of Garrett’s measure states pneumatic guns do not fit under the federal zero-tolerance policy because a firearm is described as a weapon that fires a projectile by means of an explosion.

Garrett cited the Virginia Beach story as the reasoning behind the bill because both teens could face future repercussions having expulsions on their respective permanent records.

“It’s gotten to a point, frankly, that I might expect this from other states,” Garrett said. “But when it starts happening in Virginia, something needs to be done,”

Garrett’s measure has seen little opposition, being passed by the Senate and the House committee on Education unanimously the past two weeks.

The Virginia School Boards Association supports the bill and says amendments made by Garrett influenced the association’s decision to back the legislation.

“The amendment was very straightforward and clear; saying nothing in the section should be construed to require expulsion regardless of the facts and circumstances,” said Pat Lacy, a special counsel to the school board association.

The measure will be heard by the House of Delegates this week.

Photo by: Thomas Hawk

  • error

    Report an error

There are no reader comments. Add yours.