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Parents Question Schools' Zero Tolerance Policies

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – In December, Sebastian Tomasits and his mother bought a Christmas tree and tied it to the roof of their car.

When they got home, Tomasits grabbed a box cutter from the glove box, cut the twine, put the box cutter in his coat pocket and dragged the tree into the house.

"And we put the tree up that night, well he forgot that he had the box cutter in his pocket," his mother, Lynn Tomasits, said.

When Sebastian, a 10th grader at Pittsburgh Obama Academy for International Studies, went to school the next day, the box cutter set off security's metal detector and his mom's phone rang.

"Because, you know, a 15-year-old made this silly mistake that anyone could make," she said. "I got a phone call from the vice principal that I had to come down and pick him up immediately, that he was suspended for 10 days."

He's not alone. Fox Chapel High School student David Schaffner discovered that he had his hunting knife in his pocket, while waiting in line for a school football game. When he voluntarily gave it to a security guard, he was also suspended from school for 10 days.

"I tried doing the right thing by handing my knife in and I don't know why they punished me for that," Schaffner said.

It's called zero tolerance. School policies that stem from state law, aimed at preventing violence in schools. But now, many are questioning whether it's gone too far. Especially in light of even more extreme cases – such as the 5-year-old kindergartener suspended last month in eastern Pennsylvania for pointing her Hello Kitty bubble gun at a classmate.

"I think zero tolerance is for a persons who can't think," said defense attorney Phil DiLucente.

Dilucente, Schaffner's lawyer, successfully argued that Schaffner not be expelled, but because of zero tolerance, could do nothing about the 10-day suspension.

"It's a paintbrush that is being used on all school districts, on all kids, without anyone making a reasonable effort as to judgment," he said.

Tomasits, a straight-A student, with no prior discipline problems, was able to convince a hearing officer that he should not be expelled. But his mother says the suspension was devastating and there was no appealing that.

"Based on what the intent is, what the motive is, what the kid's past history is – and judge them based on that, not just on what other people have done in the past, that has resulted in this zero tolerance," Tomasits said.

The school district released this statement:

"The district does not feel that a 10-day suspension for possessing a weapon on school property constitutes zero tolerance, but rather a reasonable amount of time to consider the alleged violation."

The infraction and the suspension are on Tomasits' permanent record and Lynn Tomosits is fighting to have that expunged, but she's going further, petitioning legislators to change the state law.

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