A young Ohio student has been suspended for three days from the fifth grade because he shaped his finger into a gun barrel and pointed it at another boy while on campus. According to his father, his son Nathan was acting in jest, has never been in trouble and did not understand that his actions violated Ohio’s zero tolerance policy for any sort of gunplay. Specifically the boy is suspended for wielding a level two “look alike firearm.”
The principle of the Devonshire Alternative Elementary School, Patricia Price, has stated that students at her school have been repeatedly warned against such behavior. According to Jeff Warner, a representative for the school district, these warnings came after students were making paper guns and engaging in gunplay. These antics resulted in notifications going home to all of the parents reminding them of the zero tolerance policy for disruptive, inappropriate or violent behavior and the repercussions for such behavior.
Nathan’s father claims not to have received such a notification but admits that he was aware that students had been warned about gunplay. In his opinion, the administration of the school is the one being childish and overreacting, especially as no one was harmed by his son’s “firearm” nor did his son’s friend, whom he was playing with, feel at all threatened.
Ohio State Senator Charleta Tavares (D) has proposed legislation to amend existing state law that demands a zero tolerance policy in schools for gun-related behavior in favor of common sense judgment instead. Case in point is the seven-year-old student who in 2013 munched on a Pop-Tart breakfast pastry until the tart vaguely resembled a handgun. That child was suspended as punishment for his childish actions. According to Tavares, edible snacks, regardless of the shape, are not weapons.
Previously, in 2002, a second grade student drew a gun on a piece of paper and after he cut it out and pointed the paper “gun,” he received a suspension. In 2009, a high school student faced a full year expulsion for pointing and shooting a Nerf foam dart. His punishment was later reduced to a suspension. These students were suspended because schools must adhere to the zero tolerance policy, which includes fingers, paper, foam darts and breakfast treats – anything that could be labeled a “look alike” firearm regardless of the level of threat intended by the student.
Rather than focusing on punitive measures for children who engage in gunplay and other “inappropriate” behavior, Tavares would like to see the laws amended to allow administrators the flexibility to tailor their reaction to such events in response to the extenuating circumstances. The goal is to be “reasonable” while still keeping the children safe and in light of the counterproductive consequences of suspending students, keep them in school whenever circumstances allow. Tavares wants to ensure that the punishment “fits the infraction.”
According to Ohio statistics for the 2012-2013 academic year, 419 students in varying grade levels were punished for wielding second-level “firearm look alike” objects and an additional 38 students were expelled. Thus, 457 stigmatized students missed valuable class time regardless of any intended threat behind their actions. Nor did it matter if they were wielding an object, a crayon drawing or their own finger in the air.
The question remains whether the punishment for the “crimes” of these children served positively to educate them on the reality of firearms or, as is a common theme in schools, on the moderation of any form of behavior that could be considered bullying. When Nathan’s father was asked if his young son had learned anything from being suspended and having to spend three days in their Ohio home, the father’s response was that Nathan had learned just one thing – not to point his finger like a gun again at school.
By Alana Marie Burke
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