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At Issue: Was state high court right to apply law to kids fighting?

The rising tide of fighting and violence in the schools has finally come to this: The Georgia Supreme Court, in its first decision in a school discipline case, has ruled on a law that gives a defense to an adult who resists an attacker also can apply to students on a playground.

The Henry County Board of Education had expelled a Locust Grove High School student under its zero-tolerance policy against fighting. The student contended she was defending herself.

The Georgia code says, “A person is justified in threatening or using force against another when … he or she reasonably believes that such threat or force is necessary to defend himself or herself or a third person against such other’s imminent use of unlawful force.”

A Superior Court decided for the student, but an appeals court sided with the school district. A unanimous Supreme Court reversed the appeals court ruling.

“Schools with ‘zero tolerance’ policies against school fights must nevertheless apply the Georgia statute that gives students the right to argue self-defense as justification for the fight,” according to the Supreme Court’s summary of the case.

“The court confirmed that the blind enforcement of zero-tolerance fighting policies, which do not consider a student’s right to self-defense and subject victim children to expulsion from school, are unlawful,” said Mike Tafelski of Georgia Legal Services, the student’s attorney.

The decision comes at a time of heightened public awareness over violence in the schools. The AJC’s Eric Stirgus reported in June that the number of fights reported by Georgia schools rose from 46,399 during the 2011-12 school year to 53,462 in the 2015-16 school year, a 15-percent increase.

Is it right that a self-defense law intended for adults now applies to children? Tell us what you think. Send comments by email to communitynews@ajc.com. Responses may be edited for length and/or clarity and may be published in print and/or online.

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