What Ever Happened To Thinking

The Chicago Public Schools have suspended Doug Bartlett, a second grade teacher at Washington Irving Elementary School, for “weapons possession” and “negligently supervising children”. From the charges you would have thought he was letting the little kids play with a loaded Glock. Instead he was doing a “show and tell” on tools for a learning module. The tools included wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers, and, horror of horrors, a 2.25 inch penknife. The children were just shown the tools and did not handle them. Mr. Bartlett stands accused of violating the school system’s zero tolerance policy. Zero tolerance policies should be renamed zero thinking policies!

Fortunately for Mr. Bartlett, his case is being taken up by The Rutherford Institute. Their press release is below:


Zero Tolerance Alert: Chicago Elementary School Teacher Accused of Weapons Possession for Demonstrating Use of Tools in Classroom
CHICAGO, Ill. — In yet another instance of zero tolerance run amok, The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of a Chicago public school teacher who is being charged with possessing, carrying, storing or using a weapon after he displayed such garden-variety tools as wrenches, pliers and screwdrivers in his classroom as part of his second grade teaching curriculum that required a “tool discussion”. Despite the fact that all potentially hazardous items were kept out of the students’ reach, school officials at Washington Irving Elementary School informed Doug Bartlett, a 17-year veteran in the classroom, that his use of the tools as visual aids endangered his students. Bartlett now faces disciplinary action and possible termination. Warning the school that disciplinary action under these circumstances could constitute a violation of Bartlett’s Fourteenth Amendment right to due process, Rutherford Institute attorneys are demanding that the school halt the disciplinary proceedings against Bartlett.

The Rutherford Institute’s letter to Washington Irving Elementary School officials in defense of Doug Bartlett is available here.

“The charges against Doug Bartlett are absurd—a gross overreaction to a simple teaching demonstration—and underscore exactly what is wrong with zero tolerance policies in the schools,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “School officials should know better than to impose such draconian punishments for innocent actions. Commonplace, basic tools such as wrenches and pliers used as part of a classroom exercise are clearly not weapons. Education truly suffers when school administrators exhibit such poor judgment and common sense.”

Doug Bartlett teaches second graders at Washington Irving Elementary School in Chicago. On August 8, 2011, Bartlett used several garden-variety tools he uses around the classroom, including wrenches, screwdrivers, a box cutter, a 2.25″ pocketknife, and pliers, as visual aids for a “tool discussion” which is required by the teaching curriculum. It is common for teachers to use such visual aids to help students retain their lessons. As he displayed the box cutter and pocketknife in particular, Bartlett specifically described the proper uses of these tools. None of the tools were made accessible to the students. When not in use, the tools are secured in a toolbox on a high shelf out of reach of the students.
However, on August 19, Bartlett received notice that he was under investigation for, among other things, “possessing, carrying, storing, or using a weapon,” and for negligently supervising children. If found at fault, Bartlett faces punishments ranging from a simple written reprimand to termination. Bartlett then turned to The Rutherford Institute for help. In coming to Bartlett’s defense, Institute attorneys point out Bartlett had no intent to use the tools as weapons. In fact, he has used some of the same tools for years without incident.

Institute attorneys are urging Valeria Newell Bryant, the principal of Washington Irving Elementary School, to immediately dismiss any and all disciplinary actions against Bartlett. “In an age where public schools face an unprecedented number of real challenges in maintaining student discipline, and addressing threats of real violence, surely no one benefits from trumped up charges where no actual ‘weapons’ violation has occurred and there is no threat whatsoever posed to any member of the school community,” stated the Institute in its letter.

The Case Of The Duck-Hunting High School Student

From the California Rifle & Pistol Association and attorney Chuck Michel:


Last year the NRA and the CRPA Foundation joined forces under their California Legal Action Project (LAP) to provide legal assistance for high school student Gary Tudesko in his fight to be readmitted to Willows High School in Glenn County, California. NRA News, in cooperation with the CRPA Foundation, has now released a video chronicling the events and the ultimate victory. It is posted at http://youtube.com/MichelLawyers. The Tudesko’s will be guests of honor at the upcoming CRPA banquet to be held on February 26, 2011.

Sixteen-year-old Tudesko was expelled on November 19, 2009 for having unloaded shotguns in his pick-up truck that he legally parked on an off-campus, public street near the Willows High School campus. The high school is located in a small rural community near Sacramento, and the unloaded shotguns were in his truck because he had gone duck hunting in the pre-dawn hours before school. The case garnered significant national media coverage as an example of zero-tolerance policies run amuck.

Tudesko’s shotguns were discovered in the pick up truck by scent-sniffing dogs during a questionable school search. Police ran the license plates, determined Tudesko was the owner, and then called him out of class. Tudesko cooperated and readily told the Principal about the shotguns and his early morning hunting trip.The school first suspended Tudesko for five days, then extended the suspension indefinitely until an expulsion hearing was held. Tudesko’s mother, Susan Parisio defended her son during the November 19th public hearing on his expulsion. She challenged the school district’s legal jurisdiction to enforce the Education Code’s prohibition of guns on campus against her son for having unloaded shotguns locked in an off-campus vehicle parked on a public street. (See Hearing Minutes) High Principal Mort Geivett told the local School Board that, as a matter of law, it had no choice but to expel Tudesko, and the Board did just that.

Tudesko appealed the local school district’s expulsion order to the Glenn County Board of Education. The appeal hearing was held on January 19, 2010. Tudesko was defended by civil rights lawyers Chuck Michel and Hillary Green of the Long Beach-based law firm of Michel & Associates, P.C. (www.michellawyers.com). (Read the Brief in Support of Appeal filed by Michel & Associates, P.C.)

In a dramatic victory, the Glenn County Board of Education unanimously reversed the decision of the Willows Unified School District and Principal Mort Geivett reinstated Gary Tudesko at Willows High School!

This was a great victory for law-abiding gun-owners – particularly young adults who wish to enjoy their rights – over nonsensical “zero-tolerance” policies.

Disturbingly, Geivett claimed the school had jurisdiction over students traveling to and from school, as well as students off-campus during lunch, and that the school had jurisdiction over off-campus vehicles because students could not possess firearms within 1,000 feet of campus. But Geivett confused the Penal Code with the Education Code. With a number of exceptions, it is a potential criminal violation of the Penal Code, specifically the Gun Free School Zone law, to knowingly possess a gun within 1,000 feet of a school. But that law has nothing to do with the sections of the Education Code generally prohibiting possession of firearms on school grounds Tudesko was charged with violating. (See Education Code sections Tuedesko allegedly violated.)

Tudesko’s truck was parked off school grounds, and Gary was not traveling to or from school at the time of the search of the off-campus truck. He was in class. Moreover, schools do not enforce criminal/penal statutes like the Gun Free School Zone law, the District Attorney does. And, the District Attorney and Willows Chief of Police had already stated there would be no charges filed against Tudesko, likely because there was no intent to violate the law.

Legal issues aside, Tudesko was in this position because of a short-sighted bureaucratic approach to enforcing the school’s “zero tolerance” policy toward firearms, which is in many cases misapplied. Time and again these policies have resulted in a triumph of irrational political correctness over common sense and justice. Given that Tudesko had gone duck hunting that same morning with friends (hence the two shotguns), had bird-shot loads as ammunition, had both firearms unloaded, had intentionally parked off-campus to avoid any issues, and had several people who corroborated his story, school administrators should have acknowledged that the circumstances did not warrant expulsion.