Florida legislators wrapped up their 2014 session by passing a bill that revises school discipline guidelines in the wake of the now-infamous incident in which a 7-year-old boy was suspended for chewing his breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun and other zero tolerance snafus.
They're calling it "the Pop-Tart bill" and it's rather specific:
Maryland, where the original pastry pistol incident took place, passed a similar bill last year.
But the boy at the center of that controversy is still caught in the zero tolerance web. The Washington Post reports that school officials in that case are saying the suspension was really about general disciplinary problems, despite the fact that the brief citation includes the word gun four times and the parents say administrators made no mention of other concerns at the time of the suspension:
For more than a year, the Anne Arundel boy's family has been asking school officials to clear the episode from his boy's records, saying that it unfairly tarnishes his file with a gun-related offense….
At Tuesday's hearing, school officials said the boy also had nibbled his pastry into a gun shape a day earlier. But his teacher, Jessica Fultz, testified that on that day he was more compliant when admonished. On the day he was suspended, she said, he was not responsive when she told him to stop.
Which highlights the irony at the heart of zero tolerance policies. Far from being inflexible across-the-board rules, they tend to be enforced selectively and often for reasons beyond what is contained in the letter of the law.
Both the Florida and Maryland bills contain language that protects teachers' and administrators' right to discipline kids who are actually being disruptive or dangerous. Because duh.
The Maryland school administrators would also like to clarify another point:
Laurie Pritchard, Anne Arundel's director of legal services, said that the object central to the case had been misportrayed, as well as the reason for the discipline.
"First of all, it wasn't a Pop-Tart," she said. "It was a breakfast pastry."