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School’s Zero-Tolerance Policy Draws Public Ire
Eighth-grader’s use of ‘hand’ gun results in expulsion.

by Marcos Johnsones
November 15, 2000

School’s Zero-Tolerance Policy Draws Public Ire_Marcos Johnsones-Eighth-grader’s use of ‘hand’ gun results in expulsion. BUFFALO, NY (PO) — Parents and school officials clashed Tuesday evening at Bruce Smith Middle School in an emergency meeting held to discuss the sudden expulsion of Dennis Winchester, an eighth-grade student who allegedly violated the school’s zero-tolerance policy regarding weapons on school grounds. At the heart of the issue, as in other cases across the nation, is the very definition of what a weapon is and where the line is to be drawn.

According to English teacher Ina Bind, the class was silently reading the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird when young Winchester exposed the “weapon” in question. “His right index finger was fully extended, his other fingers tightly closed with his thumb approaching a perpendicular position to the finger as though it were a cocked handgun. Whether his intent was to hurt someone or not is beside the point. This was in clear violation of the zero-tolerance policy, and I reported it as such, as was my duty as a professional educator.”

Lawyer I. C. Greene, representing the accused, claims it was all a misunderstanding and thinks school officials are being unreasonable. “Dennis was merely using his finger to follow the words on the page as he read the book. He wasn’t even pretending to use his finger as a gun. We have eyewitnesses to back this up. The school has made a mockery of a serious issue.” A lawsuit has been filed to get the 13-year-old back in school.

In defense of Ms. Bind and the school policy, principal Don T. Blaimy said, “With the tragedy at Columbine still sending shockwaves throughout the country, we cannot accept even the slightest suggestion of violence in our schools. It is our responsibility to these kids and their parents to see that the threat of violence does not disrupt the educational process, and the zero-tolerance policy is the best deterrent we have.”

Both sides agree that the public meeting, highly charged with heated debate, accomplished absolutely nothing, aside from inflaming the issue and stirring up people’s emotions. Though Blaimy did not budge in his resolution to uphold the policy, the embattled principal came under perhaps the heaviest fire of the evening when he admitted that the sole extension of a student’s middle finger generally warranted only a verbal reprimand.

The battle was no closer to being over today as school was dismissed at 11:30 am due to a bomb threat, presumably called in by a disgruntled parent. After a thorough search by the Buffalo Police bomb squad, the threat proved to be a false alarm. Dennis Winchester and his parents have been cleared of any suspicion regarding the incident, but eagerly await a court hearing early next week.

When asked how he was spending his time off from school, the expelled student shrugged and said, “I rented the video of To Kill a Mockingbird to see how it all turns out.”

About the Author:
Marcos Johnsones is a senior news correspondent for The Partial Observer

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