Friday, September 16, 2011

Zero Tolerance Gone Wild!

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      This news story is another indictment against the controversial policy of "Zero Tolerance" for weapons in schools. I also think the teachers at this school missed an opportunity for some teachable moments and have instead turned the situation into a fiasco.

      I am the first one to admit that you sometimes need some quick "duck and cover" reflexes in the special education classroom, but if a small flag on a wooden pole is now considered a weapon, then we are going to have to close down the schools! When I go to schools for music therapy, I have to imagine that almost everything in my bag is potentially a flying projectile (i.e., shaker eggs, tambourines) or useful as a poker or club (i.e., maracas, drum mallets), but it simply comes with the territory. It is my job as a therapist to know what instruments are appropriate for each client and to teach them the proper use of new instruments as they are introduced. This does not mean, however, that something might go awry! I remember quite vividly being the target of a flying paddle drum mallet that landed right between my eyes! Ouch! 

      I can certainly imagine that allowing a child with an autism spectrum disorder to carry around a flag on a wooden stick all day might cause some problems. But rather than take it away as a "weapon," how much better would it have been to treat the flag as a special item due some respect. The teachers could have involved the student as a leader in the pledge of allegiance at the beginning of the class, for example and then put the flag up high in a prominent place in the room for the day. A substitute transitional object could have been found for the student to hold onto and then redirect him to other tasks. The teachers could have taken the program even further by incorporating patriotic pictures and stories into the learning for that day. I don't think this would have been out of the ordinary since we just memorialized the tenth anniversary of September 11th. Of course, every situation is unique, but it does seem like some kind of strange political agenda got in the way of handling this situation more appropriately. That is too bad.

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