Schools should be places where wise thinking is rewarded. Too often, however, when schools attempt to enforce zero-tolerance policies, they toss common sense aside in favor of legal language that doesn't do justice to student behavior.
That's what happened to Fox Chapel Area High School student David Schaffner III, a 16-year-old who did the right thing and then was punished.
Fox Chapel, like most schools, has a policy that says students cannot carry weapons onto school grounds and to school-sanctioned events. David knew this. That's why, after he'd been dropped off at the school's stadium for a football game on Sept. 13 and then realized that he had a knife in his pants pocket, the first thing he did was approach a security guard at the gate.
The student explained that he knew he wasn't supposed to have the knife but had just discovered it. The guard responded sensibly, taking the knife and allowing David into the stadium.
A few minutes later, however, principal Michael Hower found David and ordered him to leave. The following Monday, he and his parents met with the principal, as instructed, and David was suspended for 10 days. Although he had faced the possibility of expulsion, the district on Friday agreed not to pursue the harsher penalty.
Since zero tolerance for firearms by students became the law of the land in 1994, schools have expanded their bans to include all sorts of things, including toys. Fox Chapel is not the first district to respond by ignoring extenuating circumstances and logic, but officials should consider what they are teaching when they do.
David's actions showed respect for the school district policy and a willingness to comply. By choosing to dole out even a suspension as punishment, the district was suggesting that it's better to be sneaky than forthright.
Even though David won't be expelled, his predicament nonetheless provided a useful lesson.