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April 14, 2009

Is it okay to bring knives to school?

IMG_3054 Picture this: your 5th grader wants to run for a school election. You are delighted that she is taking such initiative. To campaign for votes, she asks if she can bring a cake to school. You say yes. Grandma drives your daughter school with the yummy cake. Grandma packs a serrated pastry knife wrapped in paper towels to cut the cake. Teacher cuts the cake with the knife, and then reports your daughter to the authorities for bringing a knife to school. Your little girl is suspended from school.


As you can imagine, this story has elicited a wide range of reactions in my neck of the woods. Complicating the matter is the fact that the teacher used the knife before reporting the student for weapons violations. That matter aside, school policy is very clear about the district's position on bringing knives to school: any knife over 3 inches long is considered a deadly weapon. No matter what the intent, whoever brings a knife into school will be suspended. 

After the cake knife incident, there is a move afoot to alter the zero tolerance policy for knives in school. Currently, the rules offer no alternative to soften the punishments for cases like this one, when a cake knife is brought into school just to cut a cake.  

As a Mom, I'm concerned about changing the rules. If we make exceptions, where do we draw the line? Technically, any knife (even a serrated cake knife) could do damage if it fell into the wrong hands. A bully with a knife, even a cake knife, could threaten students, extort their lunch money, or worse.  

My heart goes out to the little girl who obviously meant no harm by bringing the cake knife to school. Most of all, I want to protect her and her classmates from suffering at the hands of someone who takes the knife to do ill. How would she feel if someone had taken the knife and hurt someone with it?

My gut feelings tell me that we shouldn't change current district policy. Weapons should be kept out of school. If someone makes a mistake and unintentionally brings a knife into school for the benign purpose of cutting a cake, the penalty still has to be paid. It is a difficult lesson - but we still have to take responsibility for our actions, even if we don't realize that we've broken the rules until after the fact. Moreover, I don't want to see the school district put itself in the position of adjusting punishments based on "intent," because that is a slippery slope; anyone will be able to bring a knife into school "just to cut a cake." Instead of softening the rules, I'd like to see the district redouble its effort to educate parents and students that no knives are ever allowed at school, for any reason. Ever.

Oh, by the way, the 5th grader won the election.

This is an original post for Philly Moms. Lynn writes about the peaks and valleys of parenting at For Love or Funny.



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