As the daughter of a teacher, I know that all school officials are on edge after the Newtown shooting, and vigilant about gun violence in their school setting. But there’s a line where vigilance turns into insanity.
That line was crossed this Wednesday in an elementary school in Calvert County, Maryland.
On the morning school-bus ride, a five-year-old student pulled out his toy cap gun that he’d snuck into his bookbag. When the bus got to school, the boy was immediately taken to the principal’s office, where he was accused of pointing the gun at someone and pretending to shoot (For the record, the boy denies pretending to shoot anyone and insists he was just showing the gun to a friend). However, the principal and school officials interrogated the young boy for two straight hours without notifying his parents. In fact, the grilling was so intense that the boy “uncharacteristically” wet his pants, and his mother did not hear of any of this until she was informed that her son was receiving a 10-day suspension, meaning he won’t be able to finish out the rest of this school year.
Though this incident created a national backlash and the mother is now appealing her son’s suspension, the principal stands by his handling of the situation. In fact, he stated that if the gun had been loaded with caps (that imitate the noise and smoke of gunshots but do not shoot anything out), it would have been considered an “explosive” and he would’ve called the police.
That reaction is, to put it mildly, over the top.
Let me be clear: I am a firm supporter of gun control, and I don’t think that normalizing guns or gun violence in children is appropriate. But at the same time, there is an acceptable way to deal with toy guns at school and this was not it. At no point is holding a five-year-old in a room without parental notification even remotely acceptable, gun or not. The 10-day suspension is also excessive, considering that the boy probably didn’t even realize the significance of what he was doing. The way Calvert County school officials handled this situation was crazy, and they should be held accountable for such irresponsible and extreme actions.
But while their actions were undoubtedly negligent, their intention to protect their students from guns was not. What the school should have done is ensure that the rules on toy guns and gun violence are strict and clear, maybe through a presentation at the beginning of the year. Make it crystal clear that such violations will be taken more seriously than, say, a child bringing a toy truck to school, and give the children an age-appropriate reason for why one toy is more dangerous than another. Let the parents know, too.
Then, if the situation still arises where a child sneaks a toy gun into school (which it probably will, considering they’re children), take the child to the office, call their parents, and implement the proper punishment.
And please, for the sake of reason, let's not lump toy guns in with explosives. That kind of conflation doesn't help anyone.
Schools can’t be held responsible for the fact that we live in a culture steeped with gun references (in everything from our language to our movies), but they are held accountable for shootings and injuries that happen on their campuses. If we expect school officials to protect our children, we should let them take necessary precautions within reason, and they should have the common sense to know where to draw the line.