A 7-year-old Anne Arundel County boy was suspended for two days for chewing a breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun and saying, “Bang, bang”— an offense the school described as a threat to other students, according to his family.
The pastry “gun” was a rectangular strawberry-filled bar, akin to a Pop-Tart, that the second-grader had tried to nibble into the shape of a mountain Friday morning, but then found it looked more like a gun, said his father, William “B.J.” Welch.
Welch said an assistant principal at Park Elementary School told him that his son pointed the pastry at a classmate — though the child maintains he pointed it at the ceiling.
“In my eyes, it’s irrelevant; I don’t care who he pointed it at,” Welch said. “It was harmless. It was a danish.”
The boy’s suspension comes amid heightened sensitivity about security and guns— even pretend guns — since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six staff members dead.
In the 11 weeks since the massacre, at least two young children in the Washington region have been suspended for pointing their fingers like guns, and a 10-year-old in Alexandria was arrested by police for showing a toy gun to others on his school bus. In Pennsylvania, a 5-year-old was suspended for talking to classmates about shooting her “Hello Kitty” gun — which blows bubbles.
Anne Arundel officials could not comment on the pastry incident because of confidentiality laws, schools spokesman Bob Mosier said. He did say, however, that a letter was sent home to families Friday and is posted on the school’s Web site.
In the letter, Myrna Phillips, assistant principal at the school, informed parents that a student “used food to make inappropriate gestures that disrupted the class” but said no “physical threats” were made and no one was harmed.
If children are troubled by the incident, Phillips wrote, parents should “help them share their feelings.” In addition, a counselor will be available to students, the letter said. “In general, please remind them of the importance of making good choices,” she wrote.
For the Welch family, the episode in Brooklyn Park started Friday morning, when the 7-year-old was given the pastry as part of a schoolwide breakfast program. By about 9:20 a.m., the boy was being suspended and his father was called in.
Welch said he asked the assistant principal if anyone had been scared by the pastry. Someone could have been, he said he was told.
The father said he had high regard for the school. He found the episode puzzling.
“I feel this is just a direct result of society feeling that guns are evil and guns are bad . . . and if you make your pastry into a gun, you’re going to be the next Columbine shooter,” Welch said.
Welch has followed news accounts of other suspensions in recent weeks. He contends educators are going overboard, which he said led him to go public.
“Kids are losing time in school for nothing more than playing,” he said.
He believes there is a danger of long-term effects when gun-
related incidents are written into students’ permanent records.
He wondered: What if his son gets turned down for a security clearance when he’s in his 20s because of a pretend-gun offense at age 7? “That may sound far-fetched, but, you know what, in today’s world, it’s possible,” he said.
Welch said the boy has three brothers, and all are “typical” boys. The children have Nerf guns at home, and their grandfather is an avid hunter. Welch is a strong supporter of gun rights.
Welch asked the school principal Monday to strike references to guns from his son’s records. The principal looked into the idea but said it could not be done, he said.
Welch said school leaders also told him Monday — as the case made national news — that the suspension was related to ongoing behavior, not guns, an idea he said is at odds with what he was told Friday and the letter sent to school families.
“Honestly, I think he was just kind of doing what kids do,” Welch said of his son. “To him, it was just a game, and to the school it was more than that.”