Skip to comments.Zero-Tolerance Shopping
Posted on 12/20/2003 8:44:56 AM PST by NewHampshireDuo
Modern-day concerns clashed with a holiday gift-buying tradition at Hollis Elementary School this week.
A controversy erupted after a small multi-tool item that contained a knife blade was sold to students at an annual sale sponsored by the school's Parent Teacher Club.
Students possessing knives in school is a violation of the Bonny Eagle School District's weapons policy. Grace Ward, superintendent of the district, also known as School Administrative District 6, said she stopped the sale of the items, called "pocket pliers," on Wednesday after she learned that two parents had called to complain that some had been sold to children on the first day of the sale Tuesday.
Children buy the inexpensive items to give as holiday gifts.
The pocket pliers - contained in a sturdy plastic package that is difficult to open and then wrapped in gift paper - were bought by 16 children, but arrived home safely and all the parents were informed of the purchase, she said.
Ward said the inclusion of the Swiss-Army-style multi-tools was an innocent oversight by well-intentioned parent volunteers, who each year buy small items like puzzles or candles to resell to students at cost so the youngsters can have affordable gifts to give their parents or other family members for the holidays. "It's been resolved," Ward said Thursday.
However, the sale of the tools in a school district with one of the strictest weapons policies in the state raised concerns among some parents. It also underscores how seemingly benign items - Ward said the pocket pliers were intended as gifts for fathers or other family members who enjoy hunting, fishing or camping - can be viewed in a new light in this post-Columbine era.
"It's a different world today," said Roger Richards, an administrator at the Maine Department of Education who oversees funding to local schools under the federal Safe and Drug-free Schools program. He praised Ward for acting quickly to enforce the district's weapons policy, which was strengthened following a series of bomb threats and other incidents after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado.
In the past, Richards said, pocket pliers would have seemed "pretty harmless."
They resemble a pair of pliers but have fold-out tools in the handles that include a screwdriver, bottle opener and a knife blade. The tools were among hundreds of items that were part of the annual sale. Parent volunteers scour stores all year to find bargain gifts for the students.
But Rich Eilinger, one of the parents who called to complain about the multi-tools, was shocked that they were on sale. "Two days ago, my son came home - he's 11 years old and in the fifth-grade - and asked my wife if he could buy a knife in school. That raised a few eyebrows," Eilinger said Thursday.
He said he's satisfied now that the problem has been resolved. But he said he contacted the news media because he didn't think school officials in the district, which serves Buxton, Limington and Standish as well as Hollis, were responding appropriately at first.
"I was just flabbergasted," he said. "The parent teacher organization was selling knives to elementary school students and the school approved it."
Deb Silver, president of the school's parent teacher club, concedes it was a mistake for volunteers to have bought about 20 pocket pliers for resale, but said it was unintended.
She said purchasers spend "countless hours" looking for inexpensive gifts for the children, and simply saw them as an affordable present a father or brother might appreciate. Ward said the items in the sale range in cost from 25 cents to $4, and the pocket pliers cost $4.
Silver said the knife blade on the pocket pliers wasn't very sharp and she compared it to "basically a long fingernail file." Her own son, a second-grader, purchased one as a gift, she said.
Eilinger said he saw two sizes of the multi-tool, shown to him by a father whose son, a Boy Scout, had purchased both, and estimated the knife blades ranged in length from 3 to 3 1/2 inches. The man was not upset about the sale of the pocket pliers, Eilinger said, but "he was surprised they were selling it in school."
Silver said that before the pocket pliers were sold on Tuesday, the principal of Hollis Elementary, Mark Kellis, told parent volunteers that the parents of the children buying such a gift must be informed and give permission.
Kellis on Thursday referred all comments to Ward, who said she had no knowledge of what Kellis might have said.
Ward said 16 students bought pocket pliers and that in nine of the cases, the parents were volunteering at the school during the sale and brought the gift home themselves. The other seven students took the wrapped pocket pliers home in their backpacks, she said. One child forgot to take the item out of the backpack at home, but it was discovered in school the next day and brought to the office, Ward said.
In the future, the items in the annual sale will have to meet school approval, Ward said.
She and Silver said they worry that the flap about the pocket pliers will overshadow the positive nature of the sale, a holiday tradition at the school for several years. It allows children who live in the country a unique opportunity to play Santa Claus to their families and friends, Silver said.
"Some of the children have never had a chance to be on the giving end during the holiday season," she said. "The look on their faces says it all. They are excited to be able to surprise their family and friends with the gifts they selected and paid for, usually with their own money."
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
The teacher called security, they called police, the parents had to pick up the kid at the police station, and the kid was charged, sentenced to probation, and had to perform 200 hours of car washing of police cars.
Bunch of weenies is correct. My parents gave me a Cub Scout multi-bladed pocket knife on my 8th birthday. I have carried a knife in my pocket virtually every day of the 47 years since, including all through school. Nobody cared.
I also on many days brought my .22 rifle to school on the bus and kept it in my locker all day until getting on my friend's bus and going to his farm to shoot woodchucks after school. Nobody cared. Nobody ever got shot or cut.
We've become a nation of sheep. Baaaaaaa.
My grandfather gave me a pocket knife when I was a relatively little kid and told me to always carry it. While that knife is long gone, I've always carried a knife (and where I'm allowed, a gun).