It’s a story that plays out in schools across the country: a young child brings a fake weapon to school and receives a strong consequence for his behavior. Last month this scenario played out in Hopkinton, Massachusetts when a kindergarten student took his toy gun out of his backpack and showed a classmate. The Interim Principal made the decision to give this little guy an in-school suspension for a half-day. Turns out that the “gun” was purchased at a Wild West Show during a family vacation in Arizona. The decision was later overturned upon appeal from the parent.
While I would not have suspended the student, I do understand the pressure an administrator is under to act strongly and decisively. I feel the pressure to keep all the children and adults safe in our building. Just this week, a new family from the West Coast arrived at our school surprised that we still keep one door unlocked during the day without a buzz-in system.
A better solution to the toy gun issue? Have a discussion with the young man and the family about safety – not just the importance of keeping everyone physically and emotionally safe but also focusing on the appearance of safety. I remember a conversation with a parent years ago who had some angst that I was calling home to let him know that his son had been waving his trigger finger on the bus and scaring some kiddos. When the parent reminded me that this was no big deal, which I agreed with, I also mentioned that you wouldn’t want him to have a habit of waving an imaginary gun in an airport.
My Superintendent, Steve Chamberlin, recently received an email from a parent in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, thinking that Steve was his Superintendent. (Right city, wrong state):
Subject: RE: can schools teach children to make intelligent decisions?
Date: March 22, 2013 10:28:54 PM EDT
You expelled a 5 year old for bringing a toy gun to school? OMG are you brainless? Are you right now thinking that somehow relating that action to the Sandy Hill massacre is going to prevent a future incident? Please explain it to me, what kind of decision making skills do you really expect your children to learn from this experience?
Of course, there’s lots of inaccuracies here in addition to who he sent the email too. The Superintendent did not suspend the child, the Principal did. And he must be referring to Sandy Hook not Sandy Hill. Yet, I understand this citizen’s angst.
The issues continue to swirl around us. Recently, the Sandy Hook parents who tragically lost children become politically involved. This weekend, two of these parents replaced the President during his weekend radio address. They are trying hard to keep the issue in front of the country’s attention. In our ADHD world, that might be difficult.
The key for all of us is patience and understanding. Your thoughts?