9 Outrageous Zero Tolerance Policy Punishments

Zero tolerance policies sometimes mean kids get arrested for minor behavior problems.
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Zero tolerance policies were originally put into place in an effort to reduce violence in schools. Supporters thought having zero tolerance for any type of rule violation would be the best way to ensure everyone who broke the rules was treated fairly.

Zero tolerance policies have some drawbacks, however. Since zero tolerance policies don't allow for any subjective review of the circumstances on a case-by-case basis, many schools have handed out ridiculous punishments for normal child behavior.

Here are nine real-life zero tolerance policy examples that show how some schools have gone too far.

1. Graffiti Covered Backpack

In 2010, 14-year-old Kaleb Wilson was interrogated by a Salt Lake City gang task force for having graffiti on his backpack. But, the graffiti was actually part of the backpack design and the student purchased it with graffiti-like imprint on the material.

Despite no gang affiliation, the student was photographed by the task force holding a sign that read, “I am a gang tagger,” and was told the picture would stay on file with the gang task force.

2. Emergency Tool or Deadly Weapon?

In 2009, Matthew Whalen, a senior at Lansingburgh Senior High School in upstate New York, received a 20-day suspension for bringing a weapon on school property. The weapon was a 2-inch pocket knife that the Eagle Scout kept in his emergency supply kit in his car.

The teen kept his car lock and never brought the knife into the school.

But school officials found he was in violation of the school’s zero tolerance policy.

3. Science Experiment Gone Wrong

Kiera Wilmot had always been a good student without any record of behavior problems. But when the 16-year-old’s science experiment accidentally created a minor explosion in May of 2013, the Bartow, Florida school department took action.

Not only was she suspended from school, but she also faced felony charges. Authorities later dropped the criminal charges.

4. Doodling on the Desk

Alexa Gonzalez, a 12-year-old from Forest Hills, New York, used a green marker to write the words, “I love my friends Abby and Faith. Lex was here 2/1/10.” When school officials discovered her scrawling, she was taken to the police station in handcuffs.

5. Plastic Soldiers Aren’t Allowed

David Morales, an 8-year-old student at Tiogue School in Rhode Island, was suspended for the toys he included in a school project. After choosing to decorate his hat in a patriotic theme—complete with plastic toy—he was sent home.

School officials banned the hat, saying the plastic army figures were carrying guns, making the hat a violation of the school’s zero tolerance policy. After a media outcry, the school chose to reverse its decision and the hat is now allowed in school.

6. A Mountain of Trouble

Second grade student, Josh Welch, was suspended from school in March of 2013 when his teacher thought his pop tart appeared to be chewed into the shape of a gun. Josh later disclosed to news reporters that he was actually trying to chew his breakfast pastry into the shape of a mountain.

7. Arrested for a Food Fight

In 2009, 25 students in Chicago were arrested and charged with reckless conduct for a cafeteria food fight. The students, all between the ages of 11 and 15, were also suspended from school for two days. Since they were all juveniles, the results of their court cases were not made public.

8. Cub Scout Utensils Gone Wrong

A Delaware school department sentenced 6-year-old Zachary Christie to reform school after he took his favorite camping utensil to school. Zachary brought the utensil—which could be used as a fork, spoon, or knife—because he wanted to use it to eat his lunch.

He didn’t know it would violate the school’s zero tolerance policy. The school later reversed its decision and he was allowed to return to public school.

9. Birthday Cake to Remember

A third-grade girl in Delaware was expelled after bringing a birthday cake—and the knife to cut it—to school with her. The teacher used the knife to cut the cake and then reported the student had a dangerous weapon. The expulsion was later overturned.