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US: UPDATED - 5th grader suspended for shining laser pointer in class

A 10-year-old elementary school student was suspended for three days, for shining a laser pointer on a classroom white board. Two days were spent out of school, and one day in the principal’s office. In addition, she was required to take a violence-deterrence class.

Laser pointers are forbidden in schools under California Penal Code section 417.27(b): “No student shall possess a laser pointer on any elementary or secondary school premises unless possession of a laser pointer on the elementary or secondary school premises is for a valid instructional or other school-related purpose, including employment.”
The girl, Devon Limpangug, said she found the pointer on the playground before school, on a day early in September 2010. She said she did not know that laser pointers were illegal on school premises.

The school said students are told during a first-day-of-school assembly that laser pointers cannot be brought to school, and that the information is also printed in the district’s handbook distributed to parents.

Her father, Jeremy Limpangug, said he thought the violence-deterrence program “was going too far.” School officials said that there is a zero-tolerance program for dangerous items, which includes guns, knives, explosives and laser pointers.

The principal, Ron Walton, said “It is a dangerous object and fits into the category of a suspendable offense. We are required to respond that way.”

From the Tribune. The next day, the paper ran a second story about laser hazards, noting that they “actually pose a minimal risk.”

UPDATED - September 17 2010: The presentation editor of the Tribune, Joe Tarica, commented on the situation in a blog post. Excerpts follow:

“Let’s put aside the whole ‘dangerous object’ issue first off, because if you read the second story we ran on this case, you’d know the things are really quite harmless — unless you tie someone down, clamp their eyelids open and force them to stare into the beam for several minutes in some kind of Austin Powers-esque torture scheme. So it’s stupid they’re included in this weapons category in the first place.”

“Why couldn’t a conversation have been had here and the situation worked through in a reasonable way that doesn’t demoralize a harmless 10-year-old? That fact is, a punishment of suspension and counseling doesn’t fit this crime, which is merely one of marginally poor judgment. Finally, if we do consider laser pointers dangerous objects, then we may as well open the book to a whole host of other possibilities. So I hope Walton is prepared to confiscate from his students the other potential “weapons” they may have on their person. Like their fists … or their mouths — both of which are far more likely to do damage than a little red dot.”