School administrators and police in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, escalated what seems like a minor disciplinary matter into full-blown criminal charges and likely expulsion for the unlucky teen involved.
What did he do wrong? He was smoking on school property, and is also a hunting enthusiast.
Seventeen-year-old student Alexander Chier was apparently caught smoking by a Pewaukee High School administrator. That's bad, sure—and it is against the rules—but couldn't the school easily have dealt with this on its own?
No, no, the school had to summon the police as well, and then things got much worse for Chiers. A search of his vehicle revealed that the teen had committed the most extreme of zero tolerance violations: being an avid hunter. There was a rifle and bayonet in his car, hunting knives, and 400 rounds of ammunition.
News sources disagree on the timeline. WISN reports that a school official checked the car, noticed the knives, and then called police; TMJ 4 claims that the police were called to the school because of the smoking incident and then discovered the weapons after searching the car. The latter account makes the authorities look worse since it establishes the act of smoking, rather than the discovery of knives, as the impetus for calling the police.
I contacted both the police and the school to clear up the confusion and learn more about what happened—neither office responded immediately.
Regardless of which way it went down, Chier is now facing two criminal charges for bringing weapons onto school grounds. He has also been suspended and will likely be expelled, in keeping with the school's zero tolerance policies.
It's not even a possibility that Chier was actually a danger to the school: police and district officials questioned him and all agreed that this is simply a kid who likes hunting. He said he was storing the rifle for a friend and was planning a trip to the shooting range. Nobody disputes that. He shouldn't have been smoking, and he shouldn't have stored his hunting gear in his car, but that's all he did wrong.
Does the punishment fit the crime? Not even close.
I'll add that the two media reports come off as extremely unsympathetic to Chiers and make all kinds of absurd excuses for the authorities. In particular, here is WISN:
Since Columbine, and the dozens of school shootings since, police have to assume the worst at first.
After recovering the guns, knives and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, police said they had to do everything they could to try to find out if the boy meant to do any harm there.
We know that neither Columbine nor any other school shooting would have been prevented by hysterical overreaction on the part of authorities to accidental breaches of school weapons policies. Zero tolerance does not deter purposeful and murderous delinquents; it always and only punishes harmless and accidental delinquents.
I'll post an update if or when the authorities respond.