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Are schools really observing zero tolerance….or should it really be called selective zero tolerance?

A 14-year-old autistic boy, Shane Finn, was not only suspended for a “threatening picture” that he drew in his Ridgeview Charter School in Atlanta special needs class, but he is also being charged with a felony. Yes, felony over a hand drawn picture.

Shane Finn is in the eight grade, but the mother claims that he has the mental capacity of a third grader, an IQ of 75, and does not understand why he is in trouble. The news report that I’m pulling this story from does not have an IEP or medical mental evaluation to confirm that the boy is cognitively delayed. However, he is in a special needs class…as opposed to a regular classroom.  

The autistic boy apparently drew a picture of two stick figures for a school assignment. One stick figure was labeled “me,” and was holding a gun aimed the other stick figure. The second stick figure had the teachers name above it. 

The school suspended Shane Finn and have pressed criminal felony charges for “terroristic threats.”
It is really sad that the school system obviously does not have any understanding of children with special needs and disabilities. Autistic children classically do not have the capabilities of constructively expressing anger, frustration, fear, happiness, or sorrow. Many autistic children spend more time in a self created fantasy world then they do in reality. Now, I am not saying the picture was appropriate, but did the school spend time with the child to even determine if he understood what he drew? Did the school consider that suspending a child for something he may or may not even understand is equivalent to spanking an infant for bad behavior? It really makes me wonder if anyone at this school has any common sense, much less qualifications for teaching special needs children.

I also wonder if this isn’t a case of selective zero tolerance. We hear a lot about zero tolerance, but it seems to be selectively applied. For example, here.  This 8-year-old brought a gun to his elementary school and put it in his desk. The child supposedly went into his desk and accidentally discharged the gun. However, the news report did not mention the child being suspended, much less facing criminal charges such as our autistic case above. This child actually did threaten the lives of everyone at the school by bringing a gun to school. Yet, an autistic boy is charged and suspended for drawing a gun. Here an Estabrook School  student actually brought a bullet to school and was just suspended for the rest of the day.
The list of examples goes on and on, but you get the point.

From the examples in the news of how different schools enforce zero tolerance rules, it appears that children that do not fit the mold of “normal,” whether that be in appearance, mental, or physical characteristics, are the ones that zero tolerance applies to. The “normal” kids that bring guns or contraband to school, make threats, etc.. equates to a lapse of judgment and kids being kids. This is not fair, educational, or productive.