First we strip-searched grandma at the airport after 9/11 and now we are branding bubble packing 5-year olds as terrorists. Overreacting to events is one of the unfortunate hallmarks of American society, and we are clearly seeing this attribute play out in the aftermath of the horrible Sand Hook tragedy. One of the ways that the government responds to many tragic events is through the imposition and enforcement of “zero tolerance” policies. These well-meaning policies take away all discretion and turn our schools and courtrooms from places where justice is done to places where we might as well have computers spit out a fixed result, justice be damned.
One of the most ridiculous cases I have read about in a public school since the infamous Seattle public school that decreed that henceforth “Easter Eggs” can only be called “Spring Spheres” (Seattle nonsense), is the story of a Mount Carmel Area Elementary School kindergartener in Pennsylvania who was interrogated for three hours this week, suspended from school for 10 days and ordered to undergo a battery of mental health tests. (ABC News) This five-year old was waiting at the bus stop with her friends excited about her new toy, a Hello Kitty bubbler that “shoots” soapy bubbles. The kindergartener told her friend that it would be fun if she shot her with bubbles and if her friend shot her back. (CNN)
Elementary school Principal Susan Nestico recognized the true danger of bubbling someone and ordered the girl to the principal’s office where the principal promptly determined that the off-hand comments were “terrorist threats” and ordered the five-year old suspended for ten days and ordered to undergo a psychological examination. (CNN) Nestico carefully documented the “terrorist threat” in the little girl’s subsequent suspension form issued that day and listed another girl as a “victim.” The form did not elaborate on what happened, but it did mandate a 10-day out-of-school suspension or a “medical/psychological evaluation given (the) nature of (the) offense.”
The girl’s parents complied with the demand for psychological testing and not surprisingly the findings showed completely innocent remarks blown out of proportion by an adult with her own agenda. As reported by CNN,
“The therapist wrote that he found no evidence or history of behavioral issues or poor parenting and determined ‘it appears (the kindergartener) engages in positive peer relationships.’ The counselor also noted that the child was aware of last month’s deadly shooting at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school that ended with 27 people — including 20 children ages 6 and 7 — dead. As to her own feelings about talking about shooting in her conversation with her classmates, the girl told the counselor, “I didn’t mean anything bad.’”
After receiving the therapist’s report, the ever “reasonable” Principal Nestico downgraded the threatened bubble attack from “terrorist threat” to “threat to harm others” and reduced the suspension from 10 days to 2 days because of “a lack of criminal prosecution.” (CNN) Did the publicity seeking, gun hating Principal really think that SWAT was going to come in and stop a “criminal bubbling?” I guess I am surprised that Attorney General Eric Holder hasn’t stepped in to prosecute given his activities in the Obama Murdergate scandal.
Principal Nestico’s absurd reaction to these offhand statements from a 5 year-old at a bus stop highlights many of the problems in society today. On the one hand we give everyone a trophy for participating to make them feel “equal and good about themselves” even though it turns out that self-esteem doesn’t actually create happier or healthier adults, merely entitled kids that feel better about their mediocre performance. On the other hand, we have “zero tolerance” policies that treats a little girls exuberance about an age-appropriate toy a “terrorist threat.” We have removed all judgment and discretion from our society and replaced them with these ridiculous formulas that may provide the dispensers of justice with cover from legal action but really just make America and Americans look stupid and crazy. Going back to the days of Solomon the world has always valued the proper exercise of judgment and fairness – today we act as if those critically important concepts can be replaced with the knee-jerk rules of the politically correct. Shame on you Principal Nestico.