A three-year-long case of zero tolerance run amok came to a close recently when an arbitration panel sided with an instructor accused of helping his students make guns.
In 2014, Greg Schiller, who teaches biology in Los Angeles, had volunteered to help students prepare science fair projects. But when one project—a tube that could propel objects using air pressure—arrived with the title “Can You Make A Gun Out Of PVC?” on the day of the fair, it was reported and confiscated, along with another project, which ejected objects with an electromagnetic coil, a disposable camera capacitor and a AA battery. Neither of these common science-fair projects employed gunpowder and—despite ludicrous and baseless claims from the district—neither was capable of harming anyone.
Still, Schiller was suspended based on the district’s “zero tolerance” weapons policy. During that time, his fencing team was forced to forfeit its season, and his students were reportedly subjected to a series of less-than-competent substitutes. After two months, the District caved to pressure from parents, the media and students to let Schiller return, docking him three days’ pay and placing a note in his permanent record.
Schiller, who knew he’d done nothing wrong, challenged the penalty and was finally vindicated when the three-person arbitration panel ruled, “While the device created by these two students would meet the strict definition of a weapon as defined by the zero-tolerance policy … strict application without thought can potentially stifle or impede learning.”