Delaware's largest school district did well to ease its zero-tolerance weapons policy after a first-grader was suspended 45 days for possession of a three-in-one eating utensil.

The Board of Education of the Christina School District, which includes Newark, voted to reduce suspensions for kindergartners and first-graders to three to five days for bringing a potential weapon to school.

That means it's safe for 6-year-old Zachary Christie to return to elementary school. The Cub Scout had received the district's inflexibly harsh maximum penalty - 45 days at a reform school - as punishment for possessing a camping utensil that consists of a spoon, fork, and knife.

The knife was banned under the district's zero-tolerance policy for weapons. School officials said the policy gave them no choice but to expel the boy or send him to reform school, regardless of his age or intent. That's debatable - one school board member said school employees have overlooked the extreme policy on other occasions.

The district did not retreat on the punishment for Zachary until the boy's mother waged a campaign on the Internet, precipitating a deluge of phone calls and e-mails to the district.

In an era in which students have carried out massacres at school, officials are understandably cautious about anyone caught with a potential weapon.

But school policies should allow administrators some discretion, depending on the student's age and the context of the infraction. A 6-year-old with a utensil and a plan to eat pudding should not be treated the same as a 16-year-old with a firearm and a list of perceived enemies. Evaluating violations on a case-by-case basis doesn't necessarily make a school less safe.

That doesn't excuse parents from being as vigilant as possible about what their children take to school. With all the publicity in recent years about zero-tolerance policies, parents by now should be aware of the potential for school officials to respond harshly to seemingly innocent violations.

In Philadelphia, for example, possession of a pair of scissors or a laser pointer can bring a 10-day suspension with intent to expel.

Many school administrators fear lawsuits if they don't enforce a weapons policy equally. But a one-size-fits-all approach to school safety leads to inequitable punishment for some students who don't deserve it.