A team of experts on religious and civil rights has written to a Pennsylvania school district demanding that references to a suspension be removed from a 10-year-old student’s records after he was punished for shooting an imaginary arrow at a classmate.
The letter from the Rutherford Institute was addressed to Superintendent Rona Kaufmann at the South Eastern School District in Fawn Grove, Pa.
School officials didn’t respond to WND’s request for comment, but the letter from the institute, sent on behalf of student Johnny Jones, makes clear the attorneys believe the situation should have been handled differently.
“We request that you rescind the suspension and immediately remove all reference to it from Johnny’s permanent school record,” said the letter, signed by Rutherford Senior Staff Attorney Douglas R. McKusick.
“There is no reason that Johnny should be stigmatized and branded a miscreant due to the school’s unreasonable application of its zero tolerance policy against him,” he said.
The letter asked for a response by Dec. 13.
WND has reported punishment of students for an image of a gun on a T-shirt, bringing an image of a gun maker’s logo to school and a piece of pizza eaten into the shape of a gun.
In one case, a father was arrested and strip-searched when he arrived at school to pick up his 4-year-old daughter after she had drawn a picture of a gun. Authorities wanted to know if the daughter drew the picture because he had a gun in his home.
The Pennsylvania case could be the first time a zero-tolerance policy has been used to suspend a student solely for having a vivid imagination.
The Rutherford Institute said it has been called to intervene in hundreds of similar cases of young people who were suspended, expelled and even arrested for violating school zero tolerance policies.
John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute and author of “A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State,” said the policies “criminalize childish behavior and punish all offenses severely, no matter how minor or nonthreatening the so-called infraction may have been.”
“We all want to keep the schools safe, but I’d far prefer to see something credible done about actual threats, rather than this ongoing, senseless targeting of imaginary horseplay,” he said.
The organization’s letter to the school recounted the Pennsylvania case:
As we understand the facts of Johnny’s case, during the week of October 14th, Johnny asked his teacher for a pencil during class. He walked to the front of the classroom to retrieve the pencil, and during his walk back to his seat, a classmate and friend of Johnny’s held his folder like an imaginary gun and ‘shot’ at Johnny.
Johnny playfully used his hands to draw the bowstring on a completely imaginary ‘bow’ and ‘shot’ an arrow back at the friend. The two children laughed. Seeing this, another girl in the class reported to the teacher that the boys were shooting at each other.
The teacher took both Johnny and the other boy into the hall and lectured them about disruption.
This is exactly where the story should end. Instead, however, the teacher sent an email to Johnny’s mother, Beverly Jones, alerting her to the seriousness of the violation because the children were using “firearms” in their horseplay, noting that Johnny was issued a referral to the principal.
Principal John Horton contacted Ms. Jones soon thereafter, and asserted that Johnny’s behavior was a serious offense that could result in expulsion, although Mr. Horton offered to “merely” require that Johnny serve a one-day in-office suspension. When Ms. Jones asked Mr. Horton what policy Johnny had violated, Mr. Horton replied that Johnny had “made a threat” to another student using a “replica or representation of a firearm,” through his use of an imaginary bow and arrow.
The district’s zero-tolerance policy prohibits “weapons,” including knives, cutting instruments, cutting tools, nunchakus, firearms, shotguns and rifles. It also prohibits lookalikes.
But it’s “absurd” to classify something that is imagined in those categories, the attorneys argue.
“No reasonable argument can be made that the imaginings from the mind of a 10-year-old boy, completely lacking any actual, tangible device, represented a ‘replica’ or a ‘look-alike’ of an actual gun,” they wrote.
“This atrocious misapplication of rules originally intended to protect students while on school grounds is foolish and actually damages the futures of the children meant to be protected. … Moreover, Johnny’s rights were trampled without the due consideration.”