Photo by: Nick Conley
Schools have tightened security following the Sandy Hook shooting, some to the point of arresting elementary students.
A 10-year-old boy from Pennsylvania was arrested Feb. 5 for bringing a toy gun to school the previous day. The boy is a fifth-grader at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School in Alexandria but will remain unnamed at this time to protect his identity.
According to the Washington Examiner, the police said the boy never threated anyone with the gun or pointed it at someone but showed two of his friends the toy on the bus. Police stated that the plastic toy gun had an orange cap at the end of the barrel, showing that it did not hold any ammunition.
Robin Ficker, an attorney who represented a 6-year-old student who was suspended for making his fingers look like a gun and saying “pow,” said schools have become terror-stricken post-Sandy Hook.
Senior Early Childhood Education major Cody Summerville said the way schools are dealing with the situation is inappropriate.
“The cases where kids have been arrested, that is just unacceptable,” Summerville said. “The thought that [the police] would arrest a 10-year-old for bringing a toy gun to school sends the message that we don’t know how to use our time.”
Summerville said arresting a child for an imaginary game is not an option.
“That does a lot of damage psychologically to a child,” Summerville said. “It’s out of hand. Even though Sandy Hook happened recently, school shootings do not happen every day … We need to keep in mind that school violence to that extreme is minimal.”
Liane Rozzell, executive director of Families & Allies of Virginia’s Youth, said in the Washington Examiner article that the federal government does not have business interfering in these cases.
“A toy gun is no danger to anyone,” Rozzell said. “A 10-year-old is not a fully formed adult by any means. And that kind of situation should be dealt with outside the courts and the justice system.”
The boy was released, and the school sent letters home to parents explaining the incident.
Though this case may have been the most extreme, other elementary students in the United States have been punished for playing with imaginary weapons.
A 7-year-old Colorado boy was on the playground when he tossed an imaginary grenade, resulting in his suspension from school.
Alex Watkins, a second-grader at Mary Blair Elementary in Loveland, Colo. was playing “Rescue the World” Feb. 1 when he pretended to throw a grenade to save his imaginary fellow soldiers from “the bad guys.”
The “bad guys” consisted of an empty box on the ground. It was reported that Watkins was playing by himself and did not make any threats to other children.
Watkins told local news station KDVR.com he can’t believe he got “dispended.”
Other similar incidents include a 5-year-old Pennsylvania girl who was suspended from her kindergarten for telling another girl she would shoot a soapy bubble gun at her.
School authorities claimed the girl made terroristic threats against another child and suspended her for 10 days. The child’s parents hired an attorney to argue the case, and her sentence was reduced to two days.
Assistant Professor of Education at Oklahoma Christian University Caren Feuerhelm said restricting children from this kind of playing is not going to help the situation.
“We’re taking an element of make-believe away from children,” Feuerhelm said. “Would we really rather see them sit and play a video game than run around and exercise and chase each other? Childhood is being taken away from kids.”
Feuerhelm said a child playing with pretend weapons does not mean they have ill intentions.
“In the world of make believe, most children will not dwell on the world of cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians,” Feuerhelm said. “There needs to be a certain amount of fantasy in a child’s life … What is the next step? Are we really going to tell children that they are terrorists for mentioning the word ‘gun’? Can we not see innocence anymore?”
Feuerhelm said suspension removes children from an education environment and sends them home to an environment that might be less than ideal.
“I think we have a lot of knee-jerk reactions going on right now,” Feuerhelm said. “I think we are having a lot of [scared] reactions to Sandy Hook. Is it one of the saddest things to ever happen in our history? Yes, absolutely. I wish that we could protect our children, but suspending kids from school for playing is not an answer.”