Category Archives: zero tolerance policies

TRADING MACS FOR GLOCKS: A Twisted Vision and the New Frontier

gunsWe’re trading in our Macs. We don’t need them anymore.

Trading our laptops too. We have thwarted the nascent rise of iPads. Now. Before they become too familiar.

I mean, what good is digital literacy if some sinister shadow drops in out of the sky to shoot up the school. And we all know it happens. We all feel that sense of dread lingering, remotely familiar, like the acrid cloud of cafeteria food prepped daily for a thousand kids. We all read the headlines:

L.A. School District Buys 14 Semi-Automatic Rifles To Protect Students

Southern California Schools Get High-Powered Rifles

GOP Lawmaker Wants High Schools To Teach Kids To Shoot

Mother Writes $12,000 Check For Armed Guard At Daughter’s Elementary School

5-Year-Old Suspended For Pink Bubble Gun Threat

Duncan: You Can’t Teach Kids Scared Of Being Killed

The School Where Nearly Every Student Has Experienced Gun Violence

18 States Already Allow Guns In Schools With Few Restrictions

Utah Teacher Wants To Carry Gun Without Telling Parents, Students

Minnesota Teacher Brings Loaded Gun To School For Fear Of Newtown Shooting

Our fences cannot rise any higher and still stand against the wind. We have rows of metal detectors. Our children remove their shoes for inspection as if they were boarding an airplane. They know the drill. We scope their pockets and their backpacks. We x-ray their intent. They are each sworn daily to refrain from brandishing arms. At least in any menacing way. It is our new and collective oath of allegiance to protect one another from mutual annihilation.

We are America’s most innovative school. We are widely renown as the first in any line of early adopters. First to be wired. First to go viral. First to poke holes in the internet firewall. We used to camp out for iPhones but we can’t afford dual priorities: upgrade learning technology or arm to the teeth?

So we invest in the latter. Once secure in our conviction that Macs were superior to IBM’s, we now know what we know: Apple expenditures are so pre-Newtown.


So we have glocked up. Every kid. Every teacher.

We ripped out the fitness stations that lined our running track and installed target shooting pods. They are creative. Colorful. They lend themselves to seamless integration of the so-called 21’st Century Skills– to which we have now unilaterally added: “Mastery of Firepower.”

Our students may be prone to childhood obesity and Type II diabetes, but they can freakin’ shoot. And besides, are you going to be the one to tell them they are fat?

Our “Gun Free Zone” is the registration counter, where in exchange for enrolling here you get your guns for free. (Ammunition clips are provided at no cost– however, any modifications are subject to the discretion of individual families.) Frankly, I worry about that policy. In the name of equity, is it fair that some families can afford state-of-the-art ammo packs while others can not? Are we perpetuating another national divide of “haves” and “have more pop”?

teacherOf course, without trained teachers, what good is an entire student body strapped to their sidearms?

So on minimum days we target and crouch and shoot and load and afterwards debrief. There’s a lot of peer coaching. A lot of self reflection and goal setting. We feel morally obligated to out-shoot the kids.  And so we do.

As of late, we are frequently invited to present break-out sessions at state and national conferences: “Shooting Straight:  How Schools Can Target the Real Common Core Priorities.” And: “The New Literacy Standards: How Guns at School Somehow Sharpen Everyone’s Listening and Speaking Skills.”

We’ve done keynotes. Workshops. Webinars. TED-talks. Book signings.

This year we intend to run a booth when ASCD merges with the NRA at the the national gun show in Las Vegas.

And while our academic metrics have virtually imploded, our kids and our staff generally feel good about themselves. We feel like pioneers of the old west. Revolutionaries. And we feel safer in the bargain. Sort of.

Now that we have a baseline established, we can afford to debate whether glocks are enough. We are nothing if not professionally diligent. We are an ever-visionary and forward thinking lot:

“What if Sunnyside arms their kids with higher caliber weapons?”

“How do we keep up with the inevitable modifications and weaponry upgrades– say…Glocks 2.0.?”

“If we hire a sniper coach, where should we place him or her on the salary scale? And would she have to be credentialed?”

“What happens when we discover that we’ve been  left behind in the arms race?”

Taken together the questions are chilling. Where’s the leadership?

So I sidle into my office and remove my firearms as I sit at my desk to Google updates on best practices. I reach for my laptop when I am reminded– that we traded our technology for glocks.  It’s gone.


More  from Kevin W. Riley…

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Filed under children at risk, education spending, El Milagro, Fighting for Ms. Rios, gun violence, health care, Human-Centered Design, innovation and change, public education, school reform, technology in schools, Uncategorized, zero tolerance policies



The Human Rights Campaign has been profoundly influential in encouraging public schools to develop policies that protect students from any forms of discrimination or bullying– especially LGBT students.  San Diego Unified School District, for example, has developed a model, Board-adopted, anti-discrimination policy that assures children a safe learning environment, regardless of their “actual or perceived” sex, gender, or ethnic group identification.

Adopting policies that prohibit discrimination in our schools is essential for children and staff.  But the real work is in creating safe, inclusive, loving environments that are often the one safe haven in a community.  Like El Milagro.

In “Fighting for Ms. Rios,” Aiden introduces us to Matty in the Fourth Journal: Virtuosos.

Matty was an athlete. Matty was a fierce competitor. Matty played little league. Matty played kickball. Matty wore a Baltimore Ravens football jersey. Number fifty-two. Matty always had a short-cropped haircut and was tall and thin. Matty pounded Augie behind the backstop for trying to cut to the front of the kickball line. Matty cussed and spit and told crude jokes and talked with a full mouth.

For Halloween Matty dressed up as a professional baseball player. A catcher with eye black and all the gear and the shin guards and a cup. (Madeline’s Costume)

Aiden has been playing with Matty since the beginning of the school year, but it is not until the Halloween Carnival– when the kids take a bathroom break and go into separate facilities– that he discovers she is really a girl.  The other kids knew all along.  Perhaps they have known her since kindergarten.  Perhaps they paid attention when their teachers lined up the boys and the girls separately.  Perhaps in elementary school  it just doesn’t start to matter yet.

“Matty is a girl, you dumbass!” said Charlie Flowers. He stopped adjusting the crimson pirate bandana that bordered his crimson head. He paused and looked at me to see if I was serious. “She’s supposed to go into the girls’ restroom.”

Matty is a character based on several students we have served at Mueller Charter School.  Even in pre-adolescent years, some children identify more with children of the opposite gender– and at that age– it is often difficult to tell them apart.  Matty dressed like a boy, wore her hair like a boy, talked like a boy and behaved like a boy.  Enough to confuse Aiden, who seems to blush a little, shrug his shoulders, and move on:  “In any case, it just didn’t seem to matter much at the Halloween Carnival where, at least for one night, we were all hiding behind one disguise or another.”

We have seen children so insistent on behaving like a child of the opposite gender that they refuse to use the school restrooms.  So we just make quiet arrangements for them to use the nurse’s restroom whenever they need to.

Aiden comments on the sensitivity and compassion of the teachers at El Milagro and we can easily imagine that the staff there has adopted policies similar to those inspired by the Human Rights Campaign.  It is as if he knows, even at the age of ten, that  policies don’t change attitudes and that what really matters is how children are actually treated every day.

As we walked around the carnival, I watched all of the adults interact with Matty like she was any other kid. They all knew. Her former kindergarten teacher even called her by her real name: Madeline. “You look like a pro tonight, Madeline! You look stunning!” Matty smiled.

I had a new respect for Matty and for my school. I felt proud of who we were at El Milagro—a place where kids could be who they needed to be for however long it takes to work it all out.


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Filed under charter schools, children at risk, El Milagro, Fighting for Ms. Rios, gifted children, health care, public education, resiliency, school reform, spiritual intelligence, Uncategorized, zero tolerance policies


The airport security line at San Diego’s Lindbergh Field was as long as I have ever seen it yesterday.  It stretched from the central hallway of Terminal One, past the baggage claim area, up the escalator, across the footbridge to the southeast parking and halfway down I-5 to National City.

Well maybe not that far.

But it was the expected overreaction to one Nigerian douchebag who tried to launch a rocket from his briefs to bring down the very airplane he was sitting on, and instead lit himself up like a silvery flare. Overreaction is a political calculation designed to confuse systemic bravado with actual security.  It’s what we do. And so we stand in line.

It is the same mindset that has fueled the sweeping logic of “zero tolerance” in public schools all across America.  After a series of tragic assaults from Santana to Columbine, administrators and legislators decided to actively pursue a policy of zero tolerance for weapons or violence– or even just persistently obnoxious behavior.  So kids that brought a loaded “glock” to school got themselves expelled.  As did kids who brought unloaded guns.  Or long knives.  Or swiss army knives. Or butter knives for their box lunch.  Or the nail file that their mom had given them.  And pretty soon zero tolerance reached to laser pointers and paint brushes and swizzle sticks.

There is no doubt that the first job of educators is to keep children safe, but zero tolerance polices have become so draconian, that the number of suspensions and expulsions have skyrocketed in virtually every urban center of America.  (An article in District Administration: The Magazine of School District Management states that while current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan headed the Chicago schools, expulsions ballooned from 32 to 3,000 in the ten years between 1995 and 2005!).  Many of the students who were “zero tolerated” out of the schoolhouse door… never made it back. And this is because such a disproportionate number of zero tolerance suspensions and expulsions  are children of color and kids who lack the resources to solicit proper legal representation.  And since public school students are often treated as if they are protected by a different constitution than the adults who are supposedly protecting them, violations of their due process rights are sometimes not even called into question.  After all, that is zero tolerance.

So what have we accomplished with metal detectors and security guards and armed teachers and district policies void of not only tolerance– but also judgment?  For sure, some juvenile offenders have been caught or found out or at least deterred.  But on the whole, we have made school campuses much less safe.  Instead of safe havens, we have created green zones.  Bunkers.

Just as the “war on terror” is partly a war on terror and partly a war against individual freedoms, enforcing zero tolerance has too often violated students’ individual rights in the name of campus security.  The consequence of which is mistrust and oppositional behavior.  And sometimes more violence.

Jim Freeman, the project director of the “Stop the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track Project in Washington, D.C., works with urban districts to change these kinds of codes and policies. The stated mission of Freeman’s organization is:

“To end the use of school policies that push young people out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Through research and analysis of school discipline data and policies, communication strategies, and policy advocacy, we are eliminating the needless exclusion of young people from their schools through the use of suspensions, expulsions, and arrests.”

Freeman cites a landmark study in 2006 by the American Psychological Association that alerted districts that the zero tolerance logic was flawed.

“While the standard claim was that zero-tolerance policies would improve school safety, the schools were no safer than before zero tolerance.  What the report showed was that zero-tolerance policies turned schools into inhospitable environments that didn’t promote school safety.”

recent article by Ron Schachter suggests that a degree of both compassion and discretion have returned.  There are alternatives to suspension and expulsion.  There are better ways to pre-empt student behaviors that could lead to more serious consequences. Those alternatives are having huge positive effects in major urban districts including LA Unified and Denver Public Schools: decreasing office referrals, suspensions, expulsions, and arrests, while increasing academic achievement.

More and more districts are recognizing that their zero tolerance policies do not connect kids to their school.  If instead, children are provided opportunities to reflect on their mistakes, to “right their wrongs”, and to insure their classmates and teachers that they can be trusted…  tremendous growth is possible.  Offenders give back.  Restorative Justice.

Think about that as you wait in line for TSA to complete their full body scan on your next flight to Sacramento.


Filed under gun violence, public education, Uncategorized, zero tolerance policies