Recently, a six year old student in Silver Springs, Maryland received a one day suspension from school for what school officials called a threat of violence. The boy used his thumb and forefinger to form a gun, pointed at a classmate and the girl who was his target said, "Pow." Most sane observers would consider this an obvious case of two kids playing, but he was hauled off to the Principal's office, given a one day suspension from school and a permanent entry on his official record.
A six year old child, growing up in a world full of violent movies, video games and television programs, makes a simple gesture and is accused of making a threat against the life of another student. For the rest of his academic career, his family now fears he will be known as the boy who threatened to kill a classmate. As the parents of the young man told the press, their child does not even know how to spell the word "suspension" or understand the violence that is so common in our adult world.
The youngster's parents decided to fight for their sons reputation and hired a lawyer to take their case public. They claimed their son was just playing around, like every kid does, and he has no intentions to shoot or harm any of his classmates.
The school, for their part, stated the child had been warned on previous occasions about making the gesture and because he failed to listen they had no choice other than suspension. The debate continues between advocates of the zero tolerance policy of school discipline and those who remind us that a six year old child's judgement and attention span is often similar to that of a puppy.
While we will leave it to school officials, parents and lawyers to continue the debate, it should be mentioned that many students have suffered permanent harm as a result of over-zealous school discipline. Recently, we heard about one young woman who is facing expulsion for refusing to wear an electronic RFID that would track her every movement while in school. Two students in Easton, Maryland were taken away by police in handcuffs over a pen knife and a lighter they used to fix their lacrosse sticks.
Certainly no one wants a repeat of the terrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, when 20 young students and six teachers were massacred by a madman, but turning our elementary schools into zero tolerance gulags in which our children are ordered by the government to wear tracking devices is not what the vast majority of Americans consider an effective exercise in Democracy.
Thankfully, the boy is back in class and his suspension was overturned by school board officials. The incident will be removed from his record, along with the report that the youngster "made a threat to shoot a student." The parents are relieved their son will not go through his academic career labeled as a potential danger to other students. As usual, the school board refused to comment.
Jeannie Lynch, the boy's mother was more than happy to speak about the issue:
“This should've never happened in the first place. They just blew it out of proportion. We all played as a child. We weren't denied an education out of it, though.”