Just over one year ago, Josh Welch, who was then seven years old, was suspended from school for two days, reportedly because he was caught biting a strawberry breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun. Since then, the parents of the Maryland second grader — who has since transferred to another school and in now in third grade — have been trying to get the “gun offense” erased from their son’s record.
On Tuesday of this week, school officials in Maryland’s Ann Arundel county heard the parents’ case — in a hearing that went on for six long hours. And in the end, they came to their decision.
No, wait a minute. They didn’t. After six hours, they still had no answer for B.J. and Kimberly Welch, who contended that the incident, which took place in March of 2013, just three months after the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting disaster, has smeared their child with the stigma of a dangerous, gun-toting troublemaker.
The official record of the incident, they pointed out through an attorney, uses the word “gun” four times and quotes the second-grader yelling, “Look! I made a gun!”
But the school countered that Josh Welch was not suspended simply for the Pop-Tart gun incident, but rather for “ongoing class disruption” at Par Elementary School in Brooklyn Park.
“This must have been probably the 15th or 20th time there was a classroom disruption,” said school principal Sandra Blondell. Josh Welch has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
But B.J. Welch said that Tuesday was the first time he has heard about his son’s supposedly lengthy previous record, and for the past year, he has been told only that Josh was suspended for the pastry gun incident.
“There was no reference to previous situations,” the dad said. “The big reference point was the whole gun issue, the presence of something shaped like a gun and Josh acting like what he had in his hand was a gun and pointed it like a gun. It was that there was no place for the subject of guns at school, and people get scared easily.”
The school’s top lawyer, Laurie Pritchard, also attempted to clear up a misconception about the case.
“First of all, it wasn’t a Pop-Tart,” said Pritchard. “It was a breakfast pastry.”
The six-hour hearing may not have resulted in an immediate decision, but the case sparked a new law in Florida, informally called the “Pop-Tart Bill,” which prohibits schools from imposing discipline for “brandishing partially consumed pastry” that looks like a gun.