Letter of the law or spirit of the law?
Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 21:09
David Schaffner III, who attends Fox Chapel Area High School in Pittsburgh, is not at school today and won’t be allowed to go back for at least 10 days as part of his suspension.
After that, a hearing will be held to determine if he can return at all or if he should be expelled.
So what was young Schaffner’s offense that was bad enough to warrant a suspension and possibly expulsion?
Last Friday night, Schaffner was attending a football game at his high school when he realized that a large pocket knife that he had been using earlier was still in his pocket.
Knowing that the school does not allow knives on campus, he did something that few young men his age would do.
Without any coercion, he walked over to the nearest security guard and handed in his knife, explaining the honest mistake he had made. He even voluntarily signed a hand-written statement detailing this minor incident.
Schaffner returned to watch the game until the principal found out about the knife and kicked him out, adding in a 10-day suspension.
Now, there are no metal detectors or bag checks at the football stadium, so it stands to reason that Schaffner could have simply not said anything and watched the game in peace. So what is he being punished for, his honesty?
There have been other cases like this where ridiculous decisions were made as part of a “no tolerance” policy regarding “weapons” in school.
An elementary student in Youngstown, Ohio, was also suspended for 10 days for having a plastic knife from the cafeteria in his bag.
Other cases involve such things as kids taking multivitamins, burping in class, or throwing paper airplanes, all of which resulted in a gross overreaction from school officials, some to the point of being arrested.
Do school teachers and officials in America today have something against their own students, or are they that severely lacking in common sense?
Officials at Schaffner’s school say that they are simply trying to abide by the law, which states that no knives are allowed to be carried on campus.
To follow that or any such law so absolutely removes the human element of understanding, of being able to determine the circumstances and judge someone’s intentions past the point of what the law dictates.
When we adhere to laws blindly or follow the “letter of the law” instead of the “spirit of the law,” how are we any better than robots, calculating cold punishment on those who dare make a mistake?
If anything, Schaffner should be rewarded for his honesty.
Maybe they could have kept the knife for 10 days and taught him a lesson that way. He obviously knew it was wrong, but made a mistake — one we all are capable of making.
The Fox Chapel school officials need to think about which message they want to send to their students: One of no tolerance, no matter the circumstance, or one that supports and rewards honesty, even in admitting one’s mistakes.