Two second graders at Driver Elementary in Suffolk, Va., were suspended after pointing pencils at one another and making “gun noises.”
According to a CBS affiliate in Washington, D.C., 7-year-old Christopher Marshall and one of his fellow classmates were suspended for two days, after a teacher witnessed the incident. The two boys’ behavior reportedly violated the Suffolk school system’s zero-tolerance policy of weapons.
Marshall’s father, Paul Marshall, a former U.S. Marine, said that the boys had been play-fighting and pretending to be in the military, and added that he believed the school had overreacted.
“When I asked him about it, he said, ‘Well I was being a Marine and the other guy was being a bad guy,’” Marshall said. “It’s as simple as that.”
But Bethanne Bradshaw, a spokeswoman for the Suffolk Public School system, said that under the school system’s guidelines, the boys’ actions are considered threatening, and that given the noises the boys were making, the pencil was deemed a weapon. Bradshaw added that under the current policy, which has reportedly been in place for more than 20 years, drawing a picture of a gun and pointing a finger in a menacing way are also violations.
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“Some children would consider it threatening, who are scared about shootings in schools or shootings in the community,” Bradshaw said of the incident. “Kids don’t think about ‘Cowboys and Indians’ anymore, they think about drive-by shootings and murders and everything they see on television news every day.”
“It’s an effort to try to get kids not to bring any form of violence, even if it’s violent play, into the classroom,” she added of the dual suspensions. “There has to be a consequence because it’s a rule. And it’s a rule that the principals go over.”
But Marshall, who said that the suspension note acknowledged that his son had stopped what he was doing when a teacher told him to, said that the measures showed a lack of common sense.
“Enough is enough,” Marshall said. “I see it as the tail is now wagging the dog.”
Marshall is not the first parent to criticize school administrators for being overzealous in disciplining young pupils for allegedly violent behavior. In March, a Baltimore boy was also suspended for two days from Park Elementary School after he chewed a pastry he brought to school into the shape of a gun. In a letter sent to parents, school officials said that "a student used food to make an inappropriate gesture.”
B.J. Welch, the boy’s father, told WBFF-TV that the disciplinary measure was “insanity.”
"With all the potential issues that could be dealt with at school -- real threats, bullies, whatever -- the real issue is, it's a pastry," Welch said. "You know?"