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.
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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