February 13, 2009

More Sanity In Colorado: No Expulsion For Marie Morrow, The Student With Fake Rifles

The adults--like Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier--have thankfully stepped in.

Background on the standout Cherokee Trail High School student, Marie Morrow from fellow RMA bloggers here and here.

Flawed zero-tolerance laws landed this student in hot water for possessing fake rifles--defined as "facsimiles" according to the law--but thankfully the decision was to punish with time served in suspension:
Seventeen-year-old Marie Morrow will be going back to school next week. The senior at Cherokee Trail High School was suspended for having fake rifles in her SUV at school.

Cherry Creek Schools Superintendent Mary Chesley ruled Morrow's six-day suspension will count as the expulsion mandated by state education law. Morrow is eligible to return to school Wednesday after the President's Day holiday.

School leaders said it was the least severe discipline option available under the law.

"I'm just ready to go back, glad to get back into school," Morrow said. "I'm glad they did the minimum that they could and I can go back."

The school district had the option to expel Morrow for the remainder of her senior year as allowed by law.

"I do not believe that the circumstances of this situation warrant the severe calendar year penalty that legislators intended when this statute was enacted," Chesley said in a written statement.

"They were just following the law in their eyes," Morrow. said "I'm mainly just mad at myself for making the mistake. I'm not blaming anybody."
Morrow is an exemplary student, taking her lumps and not complaining. Cherry Creek's Superintendent had little choice given the national coverage of the story.

Poorly written legislation often ends up punishing those it was never intended to harm, and will require yet more legislation to correct the absolutist language in the current statute:
Several members of the Colorado House and Senate met with Morrow and her family on Monday.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud) plans to introduce legislation to change state law to provide an exception for facsimile weapons being used by military-sponsored youth groups.

"There should be exemptions to this hard-and-fast rule so this type of thing doesn't happen again," Lundberg said in a written statement. "I am outraged that a student faces expulsion for participating in a drill team."

In addition to her meeting with lawmakers, Morrow has received encouragement and words of support on talk radio, on blogs and from viewers posting on 9NEWS.com.

"It's really great to have all this support," Morrow said on Monday. "It's just good to know who stands behind you when times get rough."

"It will be all right no matter how it turns out," Morrow added.
Morrow's case isn't the first nor will it be the last where unintended consequences precipitated by poorly written, knee-jerk, zero-tolerance legislation affect the lives of those the law should actually protect.

Just remember this the next time someone says "there should be a law." The "cult of action" embraced by those who wish to protect people from themselves and deny others their liberty tend to produce half-baked, "feel-good" laws that legislators tout as "helping the situation."

Attorney General John Suthers, addressing the story in a presentation at Auraria Campus on Monday, said legislators only have themselves to blame.

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