Elementary school students suspended by Virginia district for using pencils as guns

The Virginian Pilot reports that a group of male students at Driver Elementary School were suspended by Suffolk Public Schools (SPS) officials for pointing pencils at each other and making shooting noises.  One of the student’s mother described it as innocent play between friends, saying that “they were pretending they were in the military.”

However, SPS officials viewed it as threatening behavior.  “We consider it intimidating and threatening,” said SPS spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw. “It doesn’t have a place in the classroom.”  The boys were banned from school for violating the school district’s weapons policy. They initially faced up to 10 days’ suspension.

SPS’ “no-tolerance” policy toward weapons has been in place for at least two decades, according to Bradshaw.  Pointing a finger in a threatening manner and drawing a picture of a gun also are forbidden, she said.  “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,” Bradshaw said.

Andrea DeBruin-Parecki, graduate program director of early childhood education at Old Dominion University, believes such behavior is one way children use their imaginations.  “It’s a teachable moment.  It’s not a suspension moment for a 7-year-old,” DeBruin-Parecki said.  “You call the boys aside, and you explain to them why it’s not appropriate to do this in school.”

Nonetheless, Bradshaw insists that because the students’ conduct could be considered a legitimate threat to some students, the school district’s policy leaves little leeway.  “There has to be a consequence because it’s a rule,” Bradshaw said.  “And it’s a rule that the principals go over.”

Source: The Virginian-Pilot, 5/8/13, By Hattie Brown Garrow

[Editor's Note: Although zero tolerance policies that were forged in the wake of Columbine have lost steam, each time there is a new incident of mass violence at a school school districts consider adopting or reinstating such policies.  In March 2013, Legal Clips summarized an aricle in the Washington Post reporting that following a 7-year-old elementary school student’s suspension by Anne Arundel County school officials for nibbling his Pop Tart into the shape of a gun, his father, William “B.J.” Welch, hired attorney Robin Ficker to appeal the suspension.  Meanwhile, Maryland State Senator J.B. Jennings introduced legislation that would prohibit the suspensions of young children for imaginary guns, pictures of guns or objects that resemble a gun but serve another purpose.]

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