Zero Tolerance Takes On The Army, Loses

Zero Tolerance Takes On The Army, Loses

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

It was a simple assignment for 8-year-old David Morales: make a hat for the day his second-grade class would meet their pen pals from another school.

So the Providence, Rhode Island 2nd grader wanted to be patriotic and decorate a camouflage hat, complete with an American flag and little green Army men attached to it. He had befriended a neighbor who was in the Army, so he wanted to honor the military with his hat choice.

This is when you all go "awww."

And then you go "booooo!" because David's mom, Christan, received a call from David's teacher, who said the hat wasn't appropriate, because it was in direct violation of the school district's zero tolerance weapons policy.

Why? Because the little green Army men had little green Army guns. Guns that couldn't do any harm, even if you pointed it at someone and went "pew! pew! pew!"

According to the school's inflexible policy, not only does the school district not allow weapons or drugs, it doesn't even allow images of weapons or drugs on clothing. And since a little green Army gun that is barely visible with an electron microscope is considered an image of a weapon, the hat was confiscated by teachers and returned at the end of the day.

Presumably a t-shirt with a bottle of ibuprofen would merit a suspension.

Christan said banning David's hat "sent the wrong message to the kids, because it wasn't in any way to cause any harm to anyone. You're talking about Army men. This wasn't about guns."

After David was humiliated by his school district, the principal said that David could wear a different hat, if he could replace the horribly beweaponed little green Army men with ones that weren't holding any weapons at all. The problem was, David only had one little green Army man who was clutching little green Army binoculars. (Because, as everyone knows, real binoculars are not heavy and solid, and cannot be used to conk somebody in the head if nothing else is handy.)

So, after the school district gleefully accomplished their mission of grinding out any sense of creativity and original thinking out of a little boy (because if public education is good at anything, it's grinding creativity and original thinking out of children), David wore a plain baseball cap on the day of the pen pal meeting.

"Nothing was being done to limit patriotism or creativity, other than find an alternative to a weapon," superintendent Kenneth R. Di Pietro said in the June 18 AP article. "That just is the wrong and unfair image of one of our finest principals."

But on Thursday, Di Pietro and the unnamed principal (I checked. It's Denise Richtarik) met with Lt. General Reginald Centracchio, the retired commander of the Rhode Island National Guard, at the commander's request.

In their initial meeting, the general bellowed at Di Pietro, "There are two kinds of idiots from Rhode Island, boy, politicians and administrators! Which one are you?"

No, that's not true. But Centracchio did disagree with the district's decision to ban David's hat, and said he hoped the school would review its policies.

"The American soldier is armed. That's why they're called the armed forces," he said. "If you're going to portray it any other way, you miss the point." Then he said "uh-doi," crossed his eyes, and jabbed his finger on his forehead.

But this all changed at the end of the week when Di Pietro realized that no matter how much he said it wasn't about patriotism, it was totally about patriotism. And after the national outrage by people who didn't have their heads planted up their backsides, he said he would work with the school committee to change the policy to allow hats and clothing like David's.

According to the AP, Di Pietro said in an email "that the no-weapons policy shouldn't limit student expression, especially when students are depicting 'tools of a profession or service,' such as the military or police."

"The event exposed how a policy meant to ensure safe environments for students can become restrictive and can present an image counter to the work of our schools to promote patriotism and democracy," Di Pietro said.

To further rub the school's nose in the mess they made, Centracchio gave David a medal, and thanked him for recognizing veterans and soldiers.

"You did nothing wrong, and you did an outstanding job," Centracchio told David.

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