Appeal for Md. 7-year-old suspended for nibbling pastry into shape of gun


In an appeal letter, lawyers included photos of pastry “guns” that they argue also look like puzzle pieces of Idaho, Florida and Oklahoma. (Appeal document)

The father of a 7-year-old suspended from his Anne Arundel County school for nibbling his breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun filed a formal appeal Thursday, asking that the second-grader’s school records be wiped clean of the offense.

“The chewed pastry was not capable of harming anybody, even if thrown,” said the appeal, addressed to Anne Arundel Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell and Park Elementary School Principal Sandy Blondell. “It could not fire any missile whatsoever.”

The case, which attracted national attention, came 11 weeks after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 children and six staff members dead. In the massacre’s aftermath, sensitivities have been heightened about security and guns, even imaginary ones.

In recent weeks, children have been suspended from school for pointing their fingers like guns and, in one case, for talking about shooting a Hello Kitty gun that blows bubbles. In several cases, the offenses were described in harsh terms — one as a “terroristic threat” — and officials agreed, after appeals, to clear students’ permanent records.

In the Anne Arundel case, the son of William “B.J.” Welch was suspended March 1 for two days after chewing his breakfast bar, akin to a Pop-Tart, and yelling, “Look I made a gun,” according to the appeal. He aimed the pastry at students in a hallway and those at nearby desks, the appeal said.

“It was harmless,” Welch said. “It was a danish.”

After the suspension, Welch asked that his son’s record be wiped clean of words such as “gun,” which he worried could be damaging as the boy grows up. But school officials turned him down. In recent days, he hired lawyer Robin Ficker, who has handled three other recent suspensions of young children accused of similar actions.

In the appeal, Ficker wrote that the boy was accused of classroom disruption, although it was during a breakfast period with no teaching. The child’s classmates were eating the same breakfast bars and recognized “the pastry as a pastry and not a gun,” the appeal said.

The shape that touched off so much trouble, the appeal argues, is similar in appearance to puzzle pieces of states such as Idaho, Florida and Oklahoma, which it said are “available in every second grade classroom in the state of Maryland.”

The filing included photos of chewed Pop-Tarts and the three states.

Anne Arundel schools spokesman Bob Mosier said that the district had not received the appeal as of late Thursday afternoon and that he could not comment on the case because of confidentiality laws. Anne Arundel, he said, uses a discipline system with six tiers, and suspension is not an option until an offense reaches Level 3.

The appeal says that the second-grader’s offense March 1 was a “Level 3 violation” and that the school said the boy was seeking “peer attention” and “power control.” But Ficker argues in the appeal it was the “worst possible interpretation. . . . He was simply playing, as all kids his age do.”

Welch said in an interview that he remains hopeful about getting his son’s record cleared. “I don’t think he’ll be making any more food weapons,” Welch said.

Last week, a Maryland lawmaker introduced a bill that would forbid suspensions of young children for imaginary guns, pictures of guns or objects that resemble a gun but serve another purpose.

State Sen. J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore County) said that he hopes school boards would act reasonably on their own but that too many cases suggested otherwise. The pastry suspension was “one of the last straws,” he said.

Jennings acknowledged that he was not hearing the school’s side of every story but said he was “looking for common sense in the classroom.”

“I think these are kids playing around — these are boys being boys,” Jennings said. “They watch cartoons. They are kids.”

Donna St. George writes about education, with an emphasis on Montgomery County schools.
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