Chicago school officials have relented in a case against a 6th-grader accused of having a “dangerous weapon” for accidentally leaving an inoperable plastic toy gun in his jacket pocket when he went to class.
The Rutherford Institute, a non-profit legal advocacy group, asked Chicago officials in a letter to resolve the case of Caden Cook, who attended Frederick Funston Elementary School.
Cook had been suspended two months ago for having the “impotent toy” in his jacket. Cook, 11, had turned the toy in to administrators when he arrived at school and discovered it in his pocket.
He consequently was suspended.
The institute’s letter to the school asked to have the suspension reversed and the student’s record cleared. The district has complied.
“This is one of those rare occasions where reason prevails in the midst of the lunacy of zero tolerance policies, which are transforming our schools into quasi-prisons,” said John W. Whitehead, president of Rutherford.
“Let us hope that other schools across the country will take note of this case, and realize that we will not stand idly by while our children are threatened by an increasingly authoritarian government that has no interest in the rights of students.”
Rutherford said Chicago school district managers had agreed to expunge the student’s record.
“In addition to rescinding the suspension and removing all references to the incident from Caden Cook’s permanent school record, school officials also agreed to forgo the counseling sessions and allow Caden to return to school in a timely manner,” the institute reported. “Security staff have also been retrained on proper search procedures, notably that student bags should only be searched when there is reason to believe a student is bringing a prohibited item to campus, and that students should never be subjected to physical pat-downs in the public screening area, or without parents first being alerted.”
The school’s routine had been to separate students from their bags or backpacks as they went through metal detectors entering the school. Some bags also were searched if they were “suspicious,” and some students were “physically patted down” at random, Rutherford said.
On Jan. 31, Cook was waiting in line when he realized he had left the toy in his pocket. He immediately told security staff about his predicament. He handed over the toy.
“Instead of recognizing that Caden was attempting to do the right thing, school officials allegedly subjected the 11-year-old to a physical pat-down, intimidation tactics, interrogation, accusations of lying, and threats. All of this was done in the absence of Caden’s mother and without her having been informed of the incident. When she was finally alerted, Caden’s mother was allegedly berated and criticized for allowing her son to use toy guns,” the institute said.
The institute’s letter said that while everyone has an interest in ensuring that students remain safe at school, “there is no reason that this young boy should have been deprived of adequate procedural safeguards, stigmatized, branded a miscreant, denied an educational experience, and made to suffer the long-term consequences of a ‘weapons violation’ on his permanent school record.”