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No exceptions with zero tolerance

November 18, 2004

Sylvester- Jade Blackmon is spending a lot of time with her ferret these days. But she's getting tired of being at home.

"Because I'm home all the time," she said.

She misses her friends. And "Sometimes occasionally schoolwork." But outside the classroom, she's still learning, but about the law and zero tolerance.

"Do you understand why that might be a good law?" I asked Jade Thursday night.

"Yes," she said.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because someone might get hurt," she said.

Wednesday, a tribunal decided Jade would be suspended for 12 weeks after classmates claimed they found a pocketknife in her purse. If she returns to the Worth County School System, she would have to attend the alternative school.

But children in this situation do have options.

"If that's not satisfactory to a parent of that kid, they have an opportunity to appeal and they can in fact appeal at the state board of education and right on up to the Georgia Supreme Court," said Tommy Coleman, school board attorney in Dougherty County.

When Jade Blackmon was arrested on the school campus, it became more than a school discipline issue. It became a legal issue. Now Jade is facing a felony charge. She'll wear a house arrest system until she goes to court.

But if Jade is telling the truth, that she had never seen the knife found in her purse that day, is a law meant to keep her safe at school turning out to take an unfair toll on her childhood?

"These laws cut very harshly sometimes, there are procedures and due process procedures where, that are designed to get at the facts," Coleman said.

The fact is, Jade could spend months fighting a charge she says isn't fair.

"I knew that you weren't suppose to bring weapons to school, but I knew that the knife wasn't mine."

But with zero tolerance laws, it may not matter. That's a lesson Jade is learning the hard way.

posted at 11:17 p.m. by brannon.stewart@walb.com