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Playground Bully

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Recently, Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law has raised some serious discussions about the ability of people to defend themselves or others in violent or aggressive situations.

While more and more laws across the country seem to affirm Americans' right to defend themselves, the policies of public schools appear to be moving in the opposite direction.

In April of this year, a 9-year-old boy named Nathan Pemberton was suspended from his elementary school due to a bullying incident, but he was not the bully.

Instead, Nathan decided after weeks of being bullied that he was going to fight back. After a kid kicked him in the back and punched him in the face, Nathan punched his aggressor.

Due to an illogical zero-tolerance policy, the school suspended Nathan for becoming involved in the physical altercation.

Instead of allowing school officials to use their judgment on each issue, zero-tolerance policies make self-defense a punishable action.

In May, another incident sheds even more light on the absurdity of high school policies related to bullying.

Stormy Rich, an 18-year-old student at Umatilla High School in Umatilla, Fla., was riding a middle-school bus to school after having earned enough credits to skip her first-period class in high school.

While riding the bus, Rich witnessed incidents of bullying against a mentally challenged middle-school girl by a group of other students.

After Rich reported the bullying to both the bus driver and school officials, the incidents continued. She decided she would tell the girls that if they did not stop harassing the other girl, Rich would have to handle the situation herself because it appeared the school wasn't going to do anything.

On May 4, school officials sent a letter to Rich's mother calling Stormy a bully for telling the girls to stop. Rich also lost her ability to ride the middle-school bus to school.

Schools across the country have similar zero-tolerance policies related to these issues.

They create a one-size-fits-all response to bullying, school fighting and other related incidents. But they completely disregard the facts, situations and people involved.

Policies that punish students for reasonably defending themselves put them in potentially horrible scenarios. If students try to get away, they could risk serious injury from their aggressors. If they fight back, they will likely be suspended with a tarnished academic record.

Zero-tolerance policies take all thinking out of school administration and discipline, but it's about time someone starts thinking about the unintended consequences of punishing those who stand up for themselves and others.

A version of this article first appeared in The Independent Florida Alligator, the University of Florida's student newspaper.