Are educators taking zero tolerance too far? - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Are educators taking zero tolerance too far?

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For almost 20 years, the zero tolerance federal law requires a minimum one-year expulsion of any student caught with a firearm on school property.

But the law gives local school administrators flexibility to fit circumstances. Many elementary school parents across the country say educators are taking everything too seriously, and it's time to get real.

There are instances where kindergartners are being suspended and forced into psychological evaluations because they used their finger as a gun on the playground, or had a bubble gun and threatened to blast bubbles.

Parents say that's just taking it too far. With recent tragedies, safety is a priority, but so is a child's innocence. Parents, and even a local school representative say common sense has got to come into play.

"I was pretending to play something with guns and they just made a big deal out of it," said eight-year-old Aragon Perez.

He certainly wasn't playing with a real gun, or even a toy gun. He was using his own hands and his imagination .  Still, his teacher told him to stop.

"So now I have to play something else," he said.

He wasn't suspended, but said his grandmother talked to him about why some teachers and students may not like his game.

Perez is part of a recent growing number of young children being corrected or even suspended for what parents say is simple child's play. Some suspensions have involved children as young as five years old.

"Are we talking about a terrorist threat by a four year old? I doubt it very seriously. I would contend that children are children and they play games," said one grandparent.

"I think that it's a little much to put on a child and suspend a child for reasons they're not even going to understand at that age," said another parent.

Some parents admit they didn't even mention the sandy hook shooting to their young children because the topic is too heavy, maybe even scary for them.

However, it is on the minds of many school officials whose job it is to ensure students' safety.

"We are certainly not going to put up with instances of bullying and threats and we do take threats very seriously," said Cindy Warner, spokesperson for Shelby County Schools.

Warner says it's also their job to use a common sense approach when it comes to infractions.

"Especially with younger students they sometimes are too young to appreciate the consequences of their action and we are generally going to use a more common sense approach," she said.

Warner says in cases with young students they try to involve the teachers and counselors in helping the student understand why their behavior may not be acceptable, instead of resorting to suspension.

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