AUSTIN, Texas – A Texas lawmaker has introduced a “Pop-Tart bill” he believes will help inject some common sense into zero-tolerance school polices about guns, but critics contend it would restrict disciplinary discretion by school administrators.
Texas state Rep. Ryan Guillen, a Democrat from Rio Grande City, recently introduced legislation that would prevent school administrators from punishing students for mimicking gun play up to the fifth grade, the Houston Chronicle reports.
Guillen said the bill was inspired by a Maryland second-grader who was suspended last year after he chewed his Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun and similarly ludicrous punishments for innocent childhood behavior.
“Texas students shouldn’t lose instruction time for holding gun-shaped Pop-Tart snacks at school,” he told the news site. “This bill will fix this.”
EAGnews has reported on students in Missouri, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado and other states who have been suspended or expelled for innocent weapon-related play, from bringing a Hello Kitty bubble gun to school to using their fingers as guns, to throwing an imaginary bomb into an imaginary box, causing an imaginary explosion.
The overreactions by school administrators, who often rely on zero tolerance policies, has become a flashpoint between gun rights advocates like the National Rifle Association and those calling for gun restrictions.
In Texas, some are criticizing Guillen’s bill over anticipated “unintended consequences” that could erode the ability of school administrators to use their judgment in these types of cases.
“If I was voting today, I would vote against that bill,” state Sen. John Whitmire told the Chronicle. “I believe strongly that common sense should be the guide. I just think you have to, in my judgment, leave it up to local administrators and school campus administrators to weigh the circumstances.”
TexasAppleseed, an anti-zero tolerance policy advocacy group, seems to disagree with Whitmire.
“That sort of overly harsh punishment for behavior that really poses no threat to other students is exactly the type of school discipline we’d like to see reformed,” TexasAppleseed spokeswoman Mary Mergler said.
“Punishing students out of school for what is really minor misbehavior is really what’s contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline within the state of Texas,” she said.
TexasAppleseed has not taken a formal position on Guillen’s bill.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued a policy statement that highlights the connection between out-of-school suspensions and juvenile delinquency and school dropout rates.
Students removed from school for minor infractions is likely to “engage in more inappropriate behavior” and to “associate with other individuals who will further increase the … risks,” according to the Academy.