School officials reverse suspension of 6-year-old Silver Spring student
By Donna St. George,
School officials in Montgomery County rescinded the suspension of a 6-year-old Silver Spring boy who they said pointed his finger like a gun and said, “Pow,” agreeing to clear school records of an incident they had described as a threat “to shoot a student.”
The reversal, laid out in a letter late Thursday, resolved an appeal filed by the family’s attorney the previous day.
The boy’s mother, Jeannie Lynch, said Friday that she was satisfied with the decision but that the suspension “should’ve never happened in the first place. They just blew it out of proportion.”
She said she hopes other parents see “there are actions you can take.”
Her son, Rodney, a first-grader who likes toy cars and does not know how to spell big words like “suspension,” attends Roscoe Nix Elementary School. He was playing and did not intend harm, she said, when he pointed his finger like a gun at a female classmate.
There is debate about whether Rodney said “pow” or the girl did.
“We all played as a child,” said Lynch, who gave The Washington Post permission to use her son’s name. “We weren’t denied an education out of it, though.”
Montgomery school leaders said Friday they do not comment on discipline cases involving individual students. Earlier this week, they said the case was not “a knee-jerk reaction to a single incident.”
The child was reprimanded twice earlier the day of the incident, his mother said.
The suspension has been widely viewed as a reflection of heightened sensitivities since the Dec. 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The boy was disciplined the week after the shooting that claimed the lives of 20 children and six staff members. His suspension, on Dec. 21, was for one day.
Lynch said school administrators brought up the Connecticut tragedy as they discussed the issue with her. She said she thought to herself, “What does Connecticut have to do with my child in Maryland?”
She said her son later asked about Connecticut, not knowing exactly what it was. “We just told him, ‘It’s a state in the country,’ ” she said.
“He watches the cartoon channel,” Lynch said.
For the family, the main issue was Rodney’s permanent school record, she said. The boy’s father, Rodney Sr., took off work to care for him during his suspension. Jeannie said she wondered: What if he wants to be a police officer? Or join the FBI?
“He’s going to be in that school system 12 years, and those words [about the threat to shoot a student] are very damning,” said Robin Ficker, the family’s attorney.
Ficker declined to provide a copy of the ruling, which he said was issued by Principal Annette Ffolkes. He said it granted the appeal but was critical of the child.
“We want him to move on to doing positive things, and I hope the school system has learned from this that they need to deal in positive ways with 6-year-olds,” Ficker said. “He is very capable of being molded.”
Earlier in the week, Dana Tofig, spokesman for the Montgomery schools, said school leaders “always make sure there is clear conversation with the student and parents about any behaviors that have to change and what the consequences are if that behavior doesn’t change.”
He had added that school officials recognize that “suspending a student is a serious matter,” especially in the early grades. But officials must deal with behavior that affects a school’s sense of safety and security, Tofig said.
In suspending Rodney, an assistant school principal wrote in a Dec. 20 letter that the boy “threatened to shoot a student” and had been spoken to earlier about a similar incident.
Contacted by the family’s attorney, the school system gave more detail in a second letter, writing that a parent had been warned of the problem and that a counselor had talked to the child about “the inappropriateness of using objects to make shooting gestures.”
“Yet, after the meeting with the counselor and assistant principal, Rodney chose to point his finger at a female classmate and say ‘Pow,’ ” wrote school system attorney Judith S. Bresler.
She explained the school’s position on who made the gun sound. “The teacher heard him say it, and Rodney admitted it before he denied it and then equivocated about whether he said it or not,” she wrote. “Regardless of who said ‘Pow,’ there is no doubt that the student had been warned and counseled about the behavior.”