“Boy Suspended for Lighter He Found on Way to School”

by Walter Olson on October 1, 2010

“It depends on your whole interpretation of what a weapon is,” said the superintendent of the Jamesburg, New Jersey district. “It’s not a weapon as a knife is a weapon. But a weapon is anything that has the potential to cause harm.” Better watch out for kids who bring knuckles and fists to school, especially if they try to smuggle them in in the form of innocent-looking hands. [Free-Range Kids]

{ 17 comments }

1 captnhal 10.01.10 at 8:01 am

Did it contain lighter fluid? Was it the type that was refillable? If the answer to both of these questions is “no”, then how is it a weapon under the superintendent’s definition? Smokers are far more likely to discard empty and non-reusable ones. Too bad the reporter didn’t mention this.

2 Frank 10.01.10 at 9:14 am

“Smokers are far more likely to discard empty and non-reusable ones. ”

You should include the word “intentionally” in this sentence. I have picked up plenty of usable disposable lighters from streets, parking lots and lawns. Even with ‘empty’ lighters, once one starts to disassemble them, there can be a nice fat spark generated and often flame. Sure the kid would take it apart.

Annually, there are thousands of fires and hundreds of injuries attributed to children playing with lighters or matches.

As I recall the article I read on this (cannot access link above), the “victim” of this zealotry in protecting children was turned in by another kid who sawe him playing with it.

3 Ps 10.01.10 at 9:21 am

Better get those scissors, chairs, bunsen burners, chalk erasers, pencils out of schools. For the sake of the children, of course.

4 Bob Lipton 10.01.10 at 9:49 am

As well as the adults, all of whom, as we know, are child molesters.

Bob

5 E Garland 10.01.10 at 10:57 am

Almost 40 years after the fact, I still have a small grayish scar on my wrist left by a classmates errant pencil (we were throwing them into a suspended ceiling panel)…

Obviously, writing impements are deadly and should also be banned…

Also, my grandson’s bookbag easily wieghs 20 pounds, a very servicable cudgel…

6 J.T. Wenting 10.01.10 at 11:01 am

Pencils and books are no longer a problem in schools. Those have long since been abandoned as noone needs to write now that we have computers and books are far too complicated for the kids.

7 Gita Gunn 10.01.10 at 12:40 pm

also with the potential to cause harm:
teeth — so let’s remove those before coming to school
words — not sticks and stones, but words can cause harm, so leave those out too.
stupid teachers — can cause irreparable harm
desks and chairs — the carnage potential!
most of all: dodgeball.

8 Benji 10.01.10 at 1:05 pm

I’d agree that kids at school shouldn’t have lighters – unlike pencils, books, etc., they aren’t useful for any practical school task. But absent any reasonable belief that he was actually going to light the school on fire, I think suspension’s a little harsh – why not just take it away and tell him not to do that again?

9 Jim Collins 10.01.10 at 3:07 pm

Reminds me of the three day suspension I got back in 9th grade. Somebody had some papers sticking out of the vent on their locker door and some moron lit them with a lighter. I was suspended for shooting a CO2 fire extingusher through the vent, putting out the fire. Funny thing was that I was taught how to use the extingusher in a class the previous year.

10 Gerard Delaney 10.02.10 at 11:24 am

… I was taught how to use the extingusher in a class the previous year.

You obviously weren’t paying attention – you should have used a pressurized water extinguisher on the paper fire. CO2 extinguishers are for liquids and electrical fires. ;-)

11 David Schwartz 10.04.10 at 12:46 am

Benji: You can’t make up the rules just to justify convicting someone. The current rules don’t say anything about whether or not the item is “useful for any practical school task”. And if we were going to make new rules, that would not be a sensible rule. It doesn’t matter how useful a gun is, they’re not going to be allowed.

The rule prohibits weapons and dangerous objects, whether brought by students or teachers. The teachers carry lighters, the administration knows this, and allows this. This is sensible to allow, since lighters aren’t weapons.

12 Frank 10.04.10 at 8:56 am

I am surprised that at this site and another it appears that most adults fail to see the very real and potentially catastrophic danger of a child playing with fire.

Pencils, scissors, books cannot destroy a school building and kill dozens, hundreds of people. A lighter can. Easily.

Disclaimer. I would be excluded from a jury on this issue as my high school was partially burned down (before my matriculation) by a student just screwing around with matches.

13 Benji 10.04.10 at 10:45 am

@David: I agree, the lighter shouldn’t be considered a weapon and the student shouldn’t have been suspended. I just don’t share the same outrage as everyone because I do think it’s not something an 11-year old should have at school, and wish there was a reasonable middle ground to deal with items a student shouldn’t have but can’t use to easily murder someone.

14 gitarcarver 10.04.10 at 1:09 pm

I am surprised that at this site and another it appears that most adults fail to see the very real and potentially catastrophic danger of a child playing with fire.

Except for one thing – the kid never “flicked” the lighter.

According to the article the policy used to suspend the kid was “Pupils shall not . . . set fire to or cause fire in any way on school premises.”

The rule that the kid was suspended under doesn’t cover the situation. It appears the school simply made up the penalty.

There were other options here. The school could have confiscated the lighter and then talked to the kid about the potential danger of a lighter in school. The school could have called the parents of the kid and told them as well. There could have been an actual teaching and learning moment in this case. Instead, the kid gets suspended. The parents are upset and thinking the school wrongfully and hypocritically suspended their son.

Instead of working together, the school isolated and antagonized the kid and the parents.

15 No Name Guy 10.04.10 at 4:33 pm

What Git said “There could have been an actual teaching and learning moment in this case. Instead, the kid gets suspended. The parents are upset…”

Exactly the point. Back in my day (70’s-80’s) said lighter would have been confiscated. Depending on the circumstances, it would have ended there or at most resulted in a referal to the principal for a stern lecture on the danger of playing with fire / matches / lighters. Now, stupidity prevails.

Oh – and the most dangerous weapon of all is being systematically destroyed in the public schools – the human mind.

16 Jack Wilson 10.05.10 at 7:39 am

Is it possible to challenge accreditation for schools that use zero tolerance?

17 David Schwartz 10.05.10 at 11:32 am

Benji: If a 100% lack of any due process doesn’t outrage you, then perhaps nothing will. The point is, the administrators decided that he had broken a rule before they even figured out which rule it was. And when there was no rule, they stuck to their original position. *No* argument was going to change their decisions.

I’m sympathetic to administrators who have to do stupid things because rules they have no control over force them to. But here’s a case where the rules commanded the administrator not to do the stupid thing, but he did it any way.

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