Court Overturns Zero Tolerance Punishment Based on Stand Your Ground Law, But New Book Details Even Bigger Problems
In a battle of absurd public policies, a Georgia stand your ground law has trumped a school discipline policy of zero tolerance toward fighting. Last week, a Georgia court found that school administrators violated the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law when they expelled a student for fighting. Matt Smith writes that
S.G. . . . threw the first punch in the January 2014 scuffle — but only after her antagonist had pursued her across the school’s parking lot and backed her up against a brick pillar, according to court records. Her lawyers argued that the resulting expulsion violated state law, which lets someone use force to respond to a threat without having to retreat first.
Georgia’s Court of Appeals has agreed, ruling that the student had the right to defend herself. State law “did not require S.G. to be hit first before defending herself; nor was S.G. required to have lost the fight in order to claim self-defense,” the judges concluded. And they found school officials in Henry County, in the Atlanta-area suburbs, have a policy of expelling students “regardless of whether the student was acting in self-defense.”
The irony here is that courts so often upheld suspensions and expulsions for equally, if not more, compelling circumstances. In other words, only a student availing him or herself of a stand your ground law has a reasonable chance of challenging zero tolerance and overly harsh discipline policies. A student who just accidentally does the wrong thing, misbehaves in the exact way we expect of young students, or even tries to do the "right" thing can be thrown out of school with no recourse. Take Benjamin Ratner, for instance. As I detail in my forthcoming bookEnding Zero Tolerance,
in the outer suburbs of our nation’s capital, an average thirteen-year-old boy named Benjamin Ratner received a note from one of his friends. In the note, Benjamin’s friend told him that she had felt suicidal over the Education Law Prof Blog: