The so-called “Pop-Tart case” made its way to the Anne Arundel County Board of Education Wednesday, where lawyers sparred in oral arguments about the disciplinary action taken against a second grader who chewed his breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun.
On one side was an attorney for the boy’s family, reminding everyone that the boy with the breakfast bar was 7 years old, imaginative and perhaps mischievious on the Marchmorning when he pretended his pastry was a gun and aimed it at classmates.
On the other side was an attorney for Anne Arundel schools, stressing that the child had a history of transgressions and arguing the case was not about a gun or a pastry but about a series of misbehaviors that culminated in a suspension.
The eight-member school board is considering the child’s family’s request to clear the incident from the boy’s record, and school officials gave no timeline for when an opinion would be ready. The boy, now in fourth grade, served his two-day suspension long ago.
Since then, his case has attracted national attention — and inspired legislation in Florida — as the child’s family and attorney have pursued appeals. It has been 18 months since the child’s misstep.
“He’s learned his lesson. He’s been apologetic,” Robin Ficker, the family’s lawyer, told the board Wednesday. He said schools need to deal with students “in house,” not send them home. He suggested the boy be given a break and asked the board to “let this case go, expunge his record.”
Laurie Pritchard, director of legal services for Anne Arundel schools, defended the decision to suspend and said that 20 infractions and many interventions preceded the pastry episode. “This is absolutely a case that’s about progressive discipline,” she said. School officials “do not take suspending students lightly,” she said.
The two lawyers disagreed on many issues, including whether the incident took place during instructional time and whether the nature of the child’s gun-oriented play was a factor in the decision to remove him from school.
The suspension came shortly after the massacres at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn., at a time when a string of young children were suspended for imaginary or toy guns.
Board members asked a handful of questions but did not discuss the case Wednesday.
A hearing examiner, Andrew W. Nussbaum, made a recommendation in June that sided with school officials. “The evidence is clear that suspension is used as a last resort,” Nussbaum wrote.
The family’s lawyer, Ficker, has argued school officials changed their reasoning for the suspension after the fact. He said a school administrator told the child’s father the boy was being suspended for his imaginary gun play with the pastry, not for ongoing problems.
A disciplinary referral form from that day — March 1, 2013 — says the child “chewed his cereal bar into the shape of a gun,” aimed it at others and yelled, “Look, I made a gun!” Classroom disruption was listed as the reason for the referral, with an administrator noting at the bottom “several previous incidents of disruptive behaviors in the classroom.”
The case comes as Maryland officials have sought to shift how schools react when students get in trouble.
The Maryland State Board of Education adopted new discipline regulations last January that move away from out-of-school suspensions for minor offenses and urge a more rehabilitative approach that helps student learn about appropriate conduct.