Suspension scaled back for boy, 5, who brought cowboy-style cap-gun on school bus

School officials in Calvert County ruled Friday that a kindergarten boy suspended for taking his cowboy-style cap gun onto a school bus may return to school Monday, according to the child’s family and a lawyer.

The decision, made at a Friday disciplinary conference, cuts the boy’s 10-day suspension back to the three days he has already served. The family’s request to clear the incident from the boy’s school records must be considered separately, those involved said.

The 5-year old was suspended Wednesday after showing the orange-tipped toy to a friend on the morning bus ride to school. The child told his mother later that he had tucked the cap gun into his backpack that day because he “really, really” wanted to show it to his friend. The friend had shown him a water gun on a previous bus ride.

The mother of the kindergartner said Friday afternoon that she was pleased her son would be returning to his classes at Dowell Elementary School in Lusby. Still, the mother said she had hoped for an acknowledgment that her son’s case was mishandled. She was informed of the offense at 10:50 a.m., more than two hours after the 8:30 a.m. incident, she said, adding that her son had uncharacteristically wet himself.

Instead, the mother said she was told the incident was handled acceptably. The mother, a high school teacher in Calvert County who asked that her name be withheld to protect her son’s privacy, said she was told that, for any future infraction, a similar approach would be used for questioning and parent notification.

Kim Roof, executive director of administration for Calvert schools, did not comment specifically on the suspension but said that disciplinary conferences provide a chance for further review of cases and that sometimes student punishments are reduced.

Roof also weighed in on the questioning process, saying administrators are trained to conduct school investigations and try to have all the facts before parents are called. There are no specific policies about the timing of calls to parents, she said. “We try to contact the parents as quickly as possible, once [we] get an idea of what’s going on,” she said.

On Friday evening, Calvert schools publicly released some details in the case, including the length of the kindergartner’s questioning, which officials said lasted five to seven minutes.

The incident was brought to administrators’ attention at 9 a.m., according the release, and during much of the investigation the student was monitored in the school office as he completed class work. “The student’s needs were addressed when brought to the staff’s attention,” the release says.

The mother said Friday evening that she had never been given a precise account of how long the questioning lasted and that school officials told her at the disciplinary conference Friday that her son should have felt comfortable enough to ask to use the bathroom.

She added, “If they only needed seven minutes to question him, why couldn’t I have been called to sit with him? . . . He was in their possession, for what they were considering a very serious offense, for an extended amount of time” with no parental support.

The case comes at a time of heightened sensitivity about guns in schools across the country. Locally, children in first and second grade have been disciplined for pointing their fingers like guns and for chewing a Pop-Tart-like pastry into the shape of a gun.

The issue of parental notification when a student is in trouble also has been a flash point.

In Fairfax County, some have pressed for measures that would require that a parent be called before a student is questioned when offenses could lead to a suspension from school or police involvement. The issue is under debate again, as the School Board prepares for a June vote on another set of discipline regulations.

In Calvert County, the kindergartner’s mother and the family’s lawyer, Robin Ficker, said school officials had told them at the disciplinary conference that the time the boy had already served on suspension was the “teachable moment” they were seeking.

They asked the child if he would be involved in another such incident. He assured them he would not, his mother recalled.

The mother said she still was unconvinced that the school’s reaction was the best way to deliver a lesson to a kindergartner. “I think there are more effective ways developmentally,” she said, “to create a teachable moment with a 5-year-old.”

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