Daily Archives: October 19, 2009

Letter to the editor, San Antonio Express-News: Mayhem on campus . . .

In the interests of full disclosure: This posting was not published by the San Antonio Express-News, the only daily newspaper in the second-largest city in Texas and the seventh-largest in the United States. My decision to not submit it for consideration was based on its premise, its length and my experiences with rejection in the past.

Also in the interests of full disclosure: I served as a member of the U.S. military for 22 years and another 26 years as a federal law-enforcement officer. As a result of that combined 48 years, I am not completely unfamiliar with the various ways and means one might use to commit mayhem on campus.

Mayhem on Delaware campus:

A six-year old boy in a Delaware school was recently sentenced to a five-day suspension and 45 days in a reform school for bringing a Cub Scout camping knife to class. The item was given to him when he joined the Cub Scouts. It combines a fork, spoon and knife in one tool, a tool indispensable to every Cub Scout and Boy Scout—I’m uncertain whether such tool is given to Girl Scouts and/or Brownies, and if given, whether it would be indispensable to them.

The Delaware school has a zero-tolerance policy on students bringing to school any item that could possibly be used as a weapon. The incident has gone national in our media, and many people feel that in this instance the school has gone too far, that it has overreached in its efforts to protect students from harm (and to protect themselves from lawsuits).

No, I say—they have not overreached. On the contrary, they have fallen far short. Their action indicates a lack of attention to detail—they can’t see the forest for the trees.

In any school on any day, there are many items that can be used to maim and kill. These are items that are immediately available to all students and faculty members, items as deadly or deadlier than a Cub Scout camping tool, yet they are not prohibited by the school administrators—either they are unaware of their potential for maiming and killing, or they feel that the utility of the items outweighs that potential.

Let’s make the policy on weapons in our schools truly zero-tolerance at every level, from pre-kindergartens to kindergartens to elementary schools to middle schools to high schools and to all schools awarding advanced degrees. The threat is the same at all levels. The only difference is the ages of the people involved.

Let’s ban every item that could possibly be used by a student to kill or maim another—and we probably should extend this policy to faculty members—one could always go postal (forgive me, USPS) and attempt to take out a few students or other faculty members.

All those items—every one—should be removed and banned in order to protect the children and faculty.

Let’s start with the school cafeteria:

Do the students use metal flatware in the lunchroom? If so, all metal knives and forks and spoons must be removed—each tool, even the spoon, can be used with deadly results.

Do the students use plastic tableware? If so, all plastic knives, forks and spoons must be removed. We routinely use plastic forks to stab a chicken breast to hold it in place while we cut it with a plastic knife. And yes, a plastic spoon has fine edges and can cause damage—if held properly and applied forcefully, it could easily remove an eye.

So how do we handle a zero-tableware policy? The answer is obvious—restrict the students to finger foods. And while I’m on the subject of fingers, those digits, thumbs as well as fingers, were used in early times with deadly results—they were used to blind convicted criminals by gouging out their eyes, and are still used with deadly results in gang fights on streets and in our alleys, and probably in certain Middle East, Asian and African countries.

On further thought even a stiff finger, especially the middle one, will put out an eye if properly directed with enough force into the eye of one student by another.

If you’re wondering how to deal with those deadly thumbs and fingers, that answer is also obvious—simply require students to wear mittens at all times while on school property. Also obvious is the fact that mittens would seriously impede certain activities, including writing, scratching an itch, using restroom facilities, etc. Such activities would be handled (so to speak) as they arise, possibly by a one-on-one policy of having a faculty member supervise any activity that would require the removal and replacement of one or both mittens. Such supervision would, of course, be costly—additional personnel would be required to serve as restroom monitors and in numerous other areas. One possible alternative would be to appoint a second student as monitor, and that student could assist a fellow student in such instances. In some circumstances, particularly in rest-room visits, the team should be comprised of same-sex students. Special training for identity-definition and identity-recognition will probably be required for faculty members in higher grades. Such training should reduce the possibility of appointing rest-room teams comprised of other than same-sex students.

Pencils—particularly sharpened pencils—and ball-point pens must go. Pencils and pens, held properly between two fingers of a clenched fist with the point outward and the top pressing against the heel of the hand, can maim and kill.

Press the point into an ear and push, and the eardrum is ruptured. Press the point into an eye and push, and the eye is destroyed. Press the point into the neck toward the jugular vein and push—the jugular could be punctured and the victim will bleed to death. Press the point between two ribs with enough force and internal organs can be punctured. Think about that for a moment.

Has anyone ever noticed that airport security personnel never confiscate pencils or ball-point pens? Has anyone ever noticed that security personnel at federal buildings never confiscate pencils or pens? Think about that for a moment.

Wooden rulers with a metal edge built in to facilitate paper tearing can be used to maim and kill. The metal edge is very thin, and wielded properly will slice deeply into human skin. With a strong swing and a keen eye, a child can cut deeply into another child’s neck and possibly sever the jugular vein. Even a plastic ruler will do major damage when wielded with enough force.

Any pin such as a broach or smiley-face button (and God forbid, any campaign button) can be used with equal effectiveness. Hold the item with the pin outward, as with a pencil or pen, and push or slash with force and major damage to the skin will result.

Heavy metal items abound in a school environment, items that can be wielded with enough force, even by a small child, to main and kill, including staplers, hole punches, hammers and (by larger children or staff members) folding metal chairs. Look around—see how many offensive weapons are available to any student intent on hurting another student—or teacher.

Belts and shoelaces can be used offensively and should be viewed as deadly weapons. Belts with a heavy buckle can be swung with deadly force, and either a belt or a tie can be used as a garrote. Shoelaces can be tied together and used as a garrote. Police require arrestees to give up belts, ties and shoelaces before entering a cell. This precaution is taken to prevent the arrestee from attempting suicide, but it’s also meant to protect the officers.

All the children (and the teachers) must therefore give up belts, ties and shoelaces while in school. Considering the way some boys wear their trousers, some will have a problem. Since any maiming necessarily requires the use of one hand at a minimum, the lack of a belt may reduce or prevent such incidents. Any potential maiming, by a person using both hands while wearing low-riders, would subject such person to additional charges such as indecent exposure and intent to commit a sexual assault.

This is a posting in progress—there are many more items that should be removed from the environment in which our children spend some one-third of every day while schools are in session.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.


The School Board has reconsidered its decision in the Delaware case. The members of the Board have significantly reduced the boy’s sentence, and are making significant adjustments to the school’s zero-tolerance policy.


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