The rationale of the proposal, in a nutshell, is to prevent students from being prosecuted, and potentially expelled from school, for bringing items to school that, at best, resemble weapons, such as a rubber knife or a small toy gun. Still, the senator’s legislation would give school systems the choice of whether or not to call police in such instances.
State Sen. John Douglas (R-Social Circle) agrees in principle with the idea of giving school systems more latitude in the decision-making process.
“I think there’s a lot of room for improvement in the zero tolerance policy. I think it’s crazy when we prosecute a kid for bringing a butter knife to school, or a plastic fork,” he said.
State Rep. John Yates (R-Griffin) would also support modifications to the zero tolerance policy because the status quo “requires local officials to go against their common sense sometimes,” he said. “I think there are a few incidents where they’ve gone too far.”
While not generally opposed to Sen. Jones’ proposal, Griffin-Spalding County Schools Superintendent Curtis Jones said a close relationship with law enforcement can be beneficial.
“I think we are better off sharing information. It shows cooperation between law enforcement and schools,” he said, adding that the police department or the sheriff’s office can still decide not to press charges against a student.
Even a toy gun, such as a water pistol, can cause panic if a student — playfully or not — threatens another student with it, Jones said. “We look at what the intent of the weapon is and how it can be used. Our first priority is to educate our students. They have to know that when they are in school, they are safe,” he said.
Asked if more leeway in handling weapon-related incidents could hurt the transparency of school systems, Douglas said he didn’t think so.
“We’re not talking about something that will make kids less safe. I’m confident that the local school systems can handle (minor incidents).”
Likewise, Yates didn’t believe that more power in the process would tempt school districts into sweeping certain incidents under the rug, thus harming parents’ trust in them.
“Most teachers are smart enough to make sensible decisions for the safety of children,” he said, adding that they already make decisions involving children every day. “Tell them, ‘Trust me to make the right decision.’”