Calvert boy with toy cap gun won’t have record; suspension reversed

Calvert County’s schools chief reversed “in its entirety” the suspension of a 5-year-old boy who brought his cowboy-style cap gun onto a school bus and said the May incident will be cleared from the kindergartner’s records.

School Superintendent Jack R. Smith said in a letter dated Wednesday that his decision was based on information from officials at Dowell Elementary School in Lusby and from an appeal filed by the boy’s family. The letter, to the family’s attorney, says Smith reviewed the record, “carefully considering both the needs of the student and those of the school system.”

The boy’s mother, who requested anonymity to protect her son’s privacy, said she believes that the decision is a step in the right direction. “I’m just glad they finally decided to make right what they had done so wrong,” she said.

The 5-year-old was suspended for 10 days after he brought an orange-tipped cap gun, in his backpack, on a school bus because he wanted to show the gun to a friend. The friend had shown him a water gun on a previous bus ride.

The child’s parents were upset both by the punishment and the handling of the case. The boy was questioned without a parent, he uncharacteristically wet his pants during the school’s investigation and his mother wasn’t called immediately.

At a disciplinary conference several days after the incident, the boy’s suspension was scaled back to the three days out of classes he had already served as punishment. But in a June 14 letter, Molly Gearhart, Calvert’s supervisor of student services, rejected a request to remove the incident from his school record. Gearhart wrote that other students on the bus were afraid and hadn’t known that the cap gun was a toy.

The case comes at a time of heightened sensitivity about guns in the aftermath of December’s mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school. In other school systems, young children have been disciplined for pointing their fingers like guns and, in one case, for chewing a Pop Tart-like pastry into the shape of a gun.

In the Calvert case, the family’s attorney, Robin Ficker, filed a five-page appeal asking that the suspension be reversed, the record be wiped clean and a public hearing be held by the school board.

The appeal said that kindergartners are introduced to the student conduct code through a coloring book the first week of school. The 5-year-old was not yet reading at that point and did not grasp the gravity of the rules, according to the document.

“It is common for kindergartners to play Cowboys and Indians, Cops and Robbers or to bring things to Show and Tell,” the appeal said. “In any case, telling a little 5 year old something once or twice, is often not enough.”

The appeal alleged that other students on the bus were rewarded with school currency — called “Husky Bucks” — for providing statements, which the principal, Jennifer Young, wrote herself and did not share with the suspended child’s family.

The questioning of the child and his first-grade sister, who also was on the bus — was done in an “intimidating manner at length,” the appeal contended.

School officials have said that the boy was questioned five to seven minutes and that administrators try to have all the facts before parents are called. The child was placed in a school office area during the investigation and monitored by staff, with his needs attended to when brought to staff attention, officials said.

The 5-year-old’s mother said she hopes a broader conversation will unfold in Calvert.

“We need to, within our county, talk about parent notification when there is an issue with a child, especially a young child,” she said. “We need to talk about having common sense when it comes to talking about school safety. We need not to overreact on young children and terrorize them.”

The boy’s mother said her son, who once eagerly looked forward to first grade, is now worried that he will not remember the rules next year. “He was a normal, typical 5-year-old who had a toy,” she said. “He made a bad decision, but he’s been through an awful lot.”

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