A kindergarten student was suspended for bringing a toy bubble-blowing gun to a school in the Denver suburbs on Monday.
The 5-year-old girl received the one-day suspension “for bringing a clear bubble-type gun” to Southeast Elementary in Brighton, according to Colorado’s School District 27J.
Local television stations spoke with a woman they identified as the student’s mother. “Really, I’m in shock,” the woman, identified as Emma, told Fox 31 in Denver. “I don’t want her to miss out on class.”
“That’s a silly reason not to go to school,” the woman told the station. “What bugs me is this is going to be something they can refer to if we have any issues in the future which I don’t foresee, but it’s always going to be lingering there in her school file.”
The district defended the suspension, citing policies regarding weapons — real or fake — in its schools.
“While we hear and understand the parents of this student being concerned about this discipline in light of the student’s age and type of item, this suspension is consistent with our district policy as well as how Southeast has handled similar situations throughout this school year,” the district said in a statement.
The clear gun had blue, yellow and green plastic on the inside and “a ‘Frozen’ princess bubble bottled attached to it,” the girl’s mother told the Fox affiliate.
The suspension by the district has drawn criticism from those who say it shows how restrictive school policies result in excessive punishment for minor infractions.
“It’s absurd to send a 5-year-old home for a bubble-maker,” Nathan Woodliff, executive director of ACLU of Colorado, told ABC affiliate KMGH. “This is a silly example of a very real problem.
“Zero-tolerance policies often mean zero common sense.”
The zero-tolerance approach to school discipline gained traction with the federal Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994, which called for specific responses to bringing weapons to school.
“Zero tolerance is a common-sense policy,” President Clinton said at the time, as he directed schools to bar students with guns. “Why does anybody need to have a gun in school?”
Some have also said that the nation’s general “tough-on-crime” mood at the time helped popularize the zero-tolerance approach — which continued to spread following the 1999 Columbine school shooting.
But such policies have come under increasing fire in recent years, as the number of out-of-school suspensions has skyrocketed and stories have surfaced of students earning suspensions for pointing their fingers like guns and nibbling pastries into the shape of guns.
Critics have argued that excessive zero-tolerance policies can also inadvertently send more children through the criminal justice system, as suspensions have been linked to higher dropout rates and more interaction with law enforcement.
Of 49 million public school students, 3.5 million received out-of-school suspensions, according to 2011-2012 federal data.
Colorado School District 27J’s policy states that “carrying, using, actively displaying or threatening with the use of a firearm facsimile that could reasonably be mistaken for an actual firearm on district property” is prohibited and can earn students disciplinary action, including suspension or expulsion.
The district’s statement notes that students who have brought items such as Nerf guns have also received one-day suspensions in the past. The district urged parents to check the backpacks of their children for any such items.
“The bringing of weapons, real or facsimile, to our schools by students can not only create a potential safety concern but also cause a distraction for our students in the learning process,” the district said. “Our schools, particularly Southeast because of past instances with students bringing fake weapons to school, make a point of asking parents to be partners in making sure students are not bringing these items to school.”
KMGH also spoke with the student’s mother, who said the girl was very upset by the suspension.
“It’s a shame because it’s the end of the school year, and it’s kind of ending on a bad note now,” the woman told KMGH. “And she didn’t deserve that. She didn’t deserve a punishment like that.”