Sep 16

I’ve got a laser pointer, and I’m not afraid to use it

Hey kids, so did you hear? In the world of the public school system, laser pointers are classified in the same category as pocket knives, AK-47s and intercontinental ballistic missiles!

Get caught with any of those on the playground, in the classroom or strapped to the back of your bike along with a handlebar-mounted firing system and a binder full of launch codes and you can pretty much guarantee yourself a march down to the principal’s office.

If it’s a laser pointer, after this weapon of class disruption has been confiscated and guilt firmly established by a panel of one, it’s off to the poky with you, maybe at home or maybe in solitary confinement deep in the administrative bowels of the school.

Such is the case with young Devon Limpangug, a sweet-looking fifth-grader from Oceano who committed the heinous crime of finding one of the little gadgets under the monkey bars and blinking it in class.

Yeah, a laser pointer, like this one right here.

This one shaped like a mouse.

Shaped like a mouse because it’s a cat toy.

Yeah, that one.

Not only did Devon land herself a three-day suspension, but she’s also earned the privilege of attending a violence-deterrence program, where presumably she will be taught in yet greater detail what else not to pick up out of the tanbark and take to class, like that stick for roasting marshmallows or that ball, because, you know, it could put an eye out.

Her dad, Jeremy Limpangug, is miffed and rightly so, that his daughter essentially is being labeled a common criminal who needs a healthy dose of deprogramming to rid her of her sociopathic ways.

Oceano Elementary Principal Ron Walton, apparently a by-the-book sort of dude, had this to say about the laser pointer brouhaha:

“It is a dangerous object and fits into the category of a suspendable offense. We are required to respond that way. District policy is set by state Education Code.”

Let’s put aside the whole “dangerous object” issue first off, because if you read the second story we ran on this case, you’d know the things are really quite harmless — unless you tie someone down, clamp their eyelids open and force them to stare into the beam for several minutes in some kind of Austin Powers-esque torture scheme.

So it’s stupid they’re included in this weapons category in the first place.

But beyond that, Walton has the responsibility to bring some shred of sensibility to his job, even if the state Legislature won’t to theirs.

Despite what he says about the Education Code, Walton has the discretion to decide how disciplinary action is pursued, taking into account mitigating factors.

The fact that Devon didn’t bring the laser to school herself is a big one. That she didn’t shine it at a person is another.

Instead, with the district’s zero-tolerance policy looming over him like the hand of God, he apparently felt he had but one course of action.

And yet, he goes on to say: “We try to (respond) judiciously in cases where conversations can be had to work through situations.”

Great! Why couldn’t a conversation have been had here and the situation worked through in a reasonable way that doesn’t demoralize a harmless 10-year-old?

That fact is, a punishment of suspension and counseling doesn’t fit this crime, which is merely one of marginally poor judgment.

Finally, if we do consider laser pointers dangerous objects, then we may as well open the book to a whole host of other possibilities.

So I hope Walton is prepared to confiscate from his students the other potential “weapons” they may have on their person.

Like their fists … or their mouths — both of which are far more likely to do damage than a little red dot.

What do you think? Share your thoughts here.

Tribune photos by Joe Tarica (top) and Joe Johnston (bottom)

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  1. Michael Boudreau

    Hey Joe,

    Thanks for reminding us that pure thing called common sense is absent in the very place we want it to thrive. But oh, there’s that State Education Code again. Did you ever get a copy like I suggested a few months back when you spoke of the budget problems? I’m telling you, you could write a book about the odd logic and regulation that lies within that document. Geat ready my friend, it a long read.



  2. Elizabeth Caruth

    Common sense has been absent in public education for some time. These days, strict adherence to educational codes, school rules, and adopted state programs is the norm. NO flexibility will be tolerated. The term that administration uses for this rigidity is “Fidelity,” The current goal of public schools in California appears to be to achieve the highest API score possible. In the past, the goal was to provide an education to children. Since one must follow the appropriate procedures, the school in Oceano should face a consequence for allowing a hazardous material on their school yard. The little girl should have to write a thousand word essay on the dangers of using a cat toy as a weapon, using of course, ONLY state adopted and district approved writing materials. Alas, she can’t complete her punishment on a whiteboard with the laser pointer, because it is not a state approved writing device. Make that API exceed 800, Baby, and don’t engage in illegal activities, such as sharing toys with your friends while in class.

  3. Jon

    Other than using this as a proxy to bitch about schools, what is the point of this? Common sense is always what the speaker says it is. It’s a meaningless term.

    Laser pointers–some of them–can be harmful, even blinding. Did you bother to check that out before writing this screed? Doubtful. I hope nothing ever happens to your kids because people were using “common sense.”

  4. Joe

    Michael: yes, I did look up the Education Code. I was actually trying to find the spot where it listed all these various items defined as “weapons.” After 20 minutes of scrolling through acres of mind-numbing legalese, I gave up.

  5. DJ

    Great article, Joe! I also appreciated the comments supporting the ridiculous response by Mr. Walton to this incident. Needless to say, it appears Mr. Walton was more concerned about his own job and not how this would affect the child. She was 10! From my own experience as both a parent and as a teacher, I would say that she was very naive. Mr. Walton owes the child and the parents a huge apology for making a bigger deal out of this than was necessary. She FOUND the object, she didn’t bring it to school. The way he dealt with this child was way over the top and completely uncalled for. This is why I have now chosen to home-school. I quickly became tired of the way my children were labeled or the way that ‘well-meaning’ educators dealt with them. Mr. Walton: Put your energy where it matters most…in building up self-esteem, not destroying it!!

  6. Brett

    Mr. Walton, the school principal, shows he has no leadership ability at all. Maybe he should be “suspended” of his duties for a few days so he can try and get his head screwed on straight. If lasers are unauthorized weapons then why do many instructors use them to highlight text in the classroom? When I was in school this was not uncommon. Furthermore, that laser was a toy! And who was the teacher who turned this child in? So pathetic! This is another reason I am actually considering, for the first time, home schooling for my children.

  7. Doug

    This SOOO reminds me of why I could not stand, and eventually left TSA….. 100% bureaucratic bull—- &; “political correctness” and absolutely 0% common sense or use of ANY discretion.
    Just another reminder why more and bigger government is NOT the answer…and never has been…

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