Schools must be able to exercise discretion

A pair of local school superintendents – from Blue Earth Area and Fairmont Area Schools – recently weighed in on the issue of weapons policies in their districts. We appreciate what they had to say about using discretion to judge student intent and to hand out appropriate punishments.

Schools obviously forbid students from bringing weapons (guns, knives, clubs, arrows, etc.) to school, which is no place for these things. But it is possible for a teen or younger child to bring something to school, inadvertently or because they didn’t know better. In those cases, discretion is advised.

Southern Minnesota has provided two perfect examples of the school weapons issue lately. An apparently heinous plot in Waseca could have involved the deaths of many students at the hands of a classmate who allegedly plotted bombings and shootings. Elsewhere, at United South Central, there has been a public uproar because the school board expelled an otherwise good student because she forgot she had a knife in her purse, after a weekend of baling hay. In this second case, the school is seen as overreacting. In the Waseca case, everyone is thankful the plot was discovered soon enough.

The local superintendents rightly point out that every situation is different. Weapons should always be confiscated, then held until the end of the school year or turned over only to parents. Students should always be punished for bringing a weapon to school. But this could range from a stern warning, to detention, to suspension, to expulsion. No “zero tolerance policy” should be so stoneheaded as to start at the end of that list and exclude all other options.