Self defense bill would eliminate zero tolerance at schools - WSMV Channel 4

Self defense bill would eliminate zero tolerance at schools

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

The state House is voting on a bill that would allow students to fight without punishment if they are confronted at school.

The new law would eliminate the notion of zero tolerance and allow students to fight back in self-defense or step in to defend a classmate without fear of punishment.

The plan has already cleared the Senate. If the House passes it on Monday, it will go to the governor's desk to be signed into law.

While some say the bill promotes student safety, others argue it will do just the opposite.

"I think that it's very unfair that both kids get in trouble," said Winston Donahue, a father of two.

State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, and State Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis, are sponsoring the student self-defense bill, which would eliminate the notion of zero-tolerance and allow students to fight back in defense of themselves or to step in and fight in defense of a fellow classmate without fear of punishment.

Proponents of the bill call it a common-sense right that promotes student safety.

"The right to self-defense is there for you and I, and it should be for students as well," said Timothy Brinegar, with the Professional Educators of Tennessee.

But take the issue to the playground, and some parents have mixed opinions.

"I don't think hitting is ever the right answer," said Kay Dickson, a mother and grandmother. "I think the authorities need to take care of that. I don't think I ever want to teach my children to hit back. I would want them to go tell someone to help authorities take care of it."

"I mean, if somebody is pushing you and shoving you and won't let you alone, you have to defend yourself. And that's the bottom line," Donahue said.

It's a tricky topic even for teachers like Terry Bowers. She used to work for Metro Nashville Public Schools and now works at a private school for girls in state custody, where they, too, have a zero-tolerance policy.

Bowers said she doesn't know if the rule should change, but she has witnessed fights before and feels a change would be difficult to enforce.

"It's 'he said, she said,' you know. 'He started it, and they said something to me,' and you don't know who threw the first punch," Bowers said.

Lawmakers will have the chance to hear the bill for the first time on Wednesday when it goes to the Senate education committee.

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