Cub Scout faces 45 days in reform school for carrying Swiss Army camp set

Cub Scout utensil gets boy, 6, school suspension

First-grader brought it to eat his lunch with; now he’s facing reform school | Oct 13, 2009

By Mike Celizic

A combination fork, knife, spoon and bottle opener is Zachary Christie’s favorite utensil — but it got him in trouble at school. Photo: TODAY

A combination fork, knife, spoon and bottle opener is Zachary Christie’s favorite utensil — but it got him in trouble at school. Photo: TODAY

Dressed in a button-down shirt and tie and speaking calmly and articulately, first-grader Zachary Christie hardly looks or acts like the sort of kid who should be spending 45 days in reform school. But, thanks to a zero-tolerance policy, that’s where Zachary’s Delaware school system wants him to go after he made the mistake of taking his favorite camping utensil to school.

A Swiss Army-type combination of fork, spoon, bottle opener and knife, the tool has been Zachary’s favorite ever since he got it to take on Cub Scout camping expeditions. “He eats dinner with it, breakfast and everything else, so it never occurred to him that this would have been something wrong to do,” the 6-year-old’s mother, Debbie Christie, told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Tuesday from Newark, Del.

‘Can I have that?’

Zachary, an A student who sometimes wears a shirt and tie to school just because he likes to, told Vieira he put the tool in his pocket on Sept. 29 for a very simple reason: “To eat lunch with. I had absolutely no idea this was going to happen. I wasn’t thinking about this. I was thinking about having lunch with it.”

But when the tool fell out of his pocket on the bus and he walked off the vehicle with it in his hand, a teacher intercepted him. “She said, ‘Can I have that?’ ” Zachary recalled.

What Zachary didn’t realize was that he had fallen afoul of the Christina School District’s zero-tolerance policy toward weapons in school, one of many such policies implemented in the wake of such incidents as the Columbine High School massacre. The policy does not allow teachers or administrators to take into account intentions or the character of the student; if a student has a knife, suspension and subsequent assignment to the district’s “alternative placement school” — aka reform school — is mandatory.

Racial issue

Christina, which, according to its Web site, is the largest school district in Delaware with some 17,000 students, made its policy zero-tolerance because of concerns over racial discrimination. Studies have shown in other districts that when school officials are given discretion over such cases, African-American students are disciplined at a disproportionately high rate.

“The idea was to avoid discriminating against any student and to treat all students the same,” George Evans, president of the Christina school board, told NBC News.

While some experts favor such zero-tolerance policies, others question their efficacy, saying there is no indication that they cut down on violent incidents in schools. One of them, national school safety consultant Kenneth Trump, told NBC News, “The school administrators have to be able to administer consequences and still have some discretion to fit the totality of the circumstances.”

The totality of Zachary’s circumstances was that he had no idea that it was wrong to take his favorite camping tool to class. When the teacher asked for it when he got off the bus, he handed it over, unaware that he was already in serious trouble. He went to class while his principal called his mother.

“She said that I needed to come to the school immediately; that Zachary had brought a dangerous weapon into school, and I needed to come and pick him up. He would be suspended for five days pending a disciplinary action committee hearing. She said that he had a knife,” Christie told Vieira.

When his mother arrived at the John R. Downes Elementary School with her fiance, Lee Irving, Zachary was called from his first-grade classroom to join them.

“When they called my name up, I was like, ‘Uh-oh,’ ” he said.

Home school, not reform school

Zachary was suspended immediately for five school days. At the end of the suspension, he and his mother appeared before the district’s disciplinary action committee, where his principal and others spoke up for his good character. It didn’t matter. The committee’s hands were tied. The rules said he had brought a knife to school and would have to spend 45 days in the reform school.

Christie decided she would not send her son to that school. Instead, she has been home schooling Zachary while waiting for an opportunity to address the district’s board of education, which was to meet Tuesday night.

“I understand why they have it, but I don’t agree with the implementation of it,” Christie said of the zero-tolerance policy. “I think they need to look at the age, maturity, intent, situation; bring in the teachers who know the child or the principal, and allow them to make the first call in these situations,” she said. “Looking at other schools’ codes of conduct in the Delaware Valley, their first step would have been a suspension.”

Christie assured Vieira that her son is well aware of the necessity of not taking anything new to school without first asking and is not a threat to anyone. She hopes the school board will agree with her.

“I hope that they expunge his record and allow him to go back to Downes immediately,” she said of the board. “I think he has had an over-excess of education on this issue. I’m hoping that out of all of this the policy changes and that no other child is affected negatively by what is supposed to keep them all safe.”

Vieira asked Zachary if he’s nervous about the prospect of eventually returning to his school.

“I’m not very nervous,” Zachary said. “I like being home-schooled. It’s happy in some ways; it’s sad in some ways. Sometimes I’m strict, and sometimes I can get into my serious mode. I can get into my happy mode. It’s just kind of fun being home-schooled, but I’m not scared to go back.”

And what has he learned from everything that’s happened to him?

“To always ask before taking something new into school,” he said.

9 responses to “Cub Scout faces 45 days in reform school for carrying Swiss Army camp set

  1. Why not castrate him and be done with it? That is the goal isn’t it? If not literal, then emotional and spiritual?

  2. On the bright side, that could turn him into a great singer!
    All kidding aside, shouldn’t teachers be allowed some leway to judge intent or malice on the part of students? This should never have even made it as far as the principle’s office let alone news papers, IMO.

  3. When I was in elementary school in the 60s, boys would bring big Bowie knives and even guns to school for show and tell. Having a pocket knife on hand at all times, especially for a cub scout, was the norm. This was possible because we were not only freer then, but more sane, sensible and moral. Today, Americans are being turned into literal prisoners in a giant network of totalitarian control whose tentacles reach into every sphere of life, micromanaging every action. Now an innocent 6 year old is literally charged with a crime for doing something that was normal 40 years ago. This is how things have changed. And it isn’t by accident.

  4. Yep, while in high school in the late 70’s early 80’s I always carried a knife for kind of a general all purpose tool which was seen by many teachers, and even laughed at by police after they asked me if I had a weapon on me while a kegger I was throwing got busted. I doubt that would happen now.

  5. How about zero tolerance for soviet styled indoctrination passing as education.

  6. Oh yeah, a pocketknife is a definite weapons charge in the TIA police state. And lord help you if you have a plastic spoon or you fidget in the long TSA waiting line at the airport as you will be profiled by the smart computers as a terrorist. And if you are a mother with a bottle of breast milk you will be forced to drink it yourself. And on and on and on. Who are the real terrorists? They must be identified and brought before the court of public opinion, convicted and sentenced. We the people are sick and tired of them ruling over us.

  7. Pingback: Eagle Scout suspended for keeping 2-inch knife in car « Aftermath News

  8. Pingback: Rough Road Ahead for New York Eagle Scout as School District Won’t Budge on Pocketknife Suspension « Aftermath News

  9. Pingback: Rough Road Ahead for New York Eagle Scout as School District Won’t Budge on Pocketknife Suspension | Conspiratorium 101

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