- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Boy Scouts are supposed to “Be Prepared.” But how could a New York Eagle Scout prepare himself to have his dreams derailed by a school’s imbalanced “zero tolerance” policy?

Matthew Whalen’s plan to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point may be in jeopardy because the high school senior had a 2-inch pocketknife locked in his car. The Lansingburgh Central School District initially suspended him for five days and later added another 15 days to his sentence.

The honor student, who became a soldier last summer and completed Army Basic Training, including learning the safe use of automatic weapons and a bayonet, kept the pocketknife in a side compartment of his car as part of a survival kit along with a sleeping bag and bottled water.

School policy states that students are not allowed to have anything that could be “considered” a weapon on school grounds even though state law doesn’t define a small knife as a weapon. That’s slippery ground. The federal Transportation Security Administration doesn’t let potential weapons such as baseball bats, golf clubs, corkscrews and tire irons on airplanes. None are banned from the upstate school.

Zero-tolerance policies, initiated on the federal level by the Gun-Free Schools Act, have spawned a national wave of perversity. Thanks to zero-tolerance overenforcement, youngsters have faced disciplinary action for bringing Midol to school. In some cities, kindergartners by the dozen have been suspended for infractions that used to require a phone call to parents - at most.

The New York Times reported that an 11-year old died of asthma because of a bureaucratic snafu caused by his school’s drug policy, a problem that still keeps some students from having easy access to lifesaving medicine.

If it were allowed in our schools, a little common sense could solve most problems without making a federal case out of everything. As long as zero-tolerance rules remain, the only lesson students will learn is that too many adults are afraid to think for themselves.