MIAMI – Almost six years have passed since the Columbine massacre prompted American schools to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to students' misbehavior. Where the threat of a detention might once have been used to control an unruly student, a teacher today is as likely to call for a police cruiser.
Now, three recent episodes in Florida elementary schools in which police handcuffed and removed children as young as 6 are crystallizing a national debate on finding a proper and practical balance between safety and tolerance.
"Tough criminal sanctions are absurd at that age," says Bob Schwartz, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center. "Florida is not alone. There are still many places in the country where adults are completely losing their bearings."