Traditional notions of innocent playground antics have been irreparably altered as a result of recent tragic events, such as the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Games of “cops and robbers” may become schoolyard folklore as schools adhere to a zero-tolerance policy concerning even the imaginary use of weapons at school.
Recently a student at Park Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland, was suspended after munching a pastry snack into a gun-like shape and allegedly saying “bang, bang.” The 7-year-old boy received a two day suspension as a result of the incident and his permanent school record will include a reference to the matter. This is not the first time that actions, normally considered to be harmless childhood games, have resulted in reprimand and suspension. In the Washington area two children were suspended after pointing their fingers like a gun and in Pennsylvania a 5-year-old girl was suspended for bragging about shooting her “Hello Kitty” bubble gun. Another Maryland school recently lifted the suspension of a 6-year-old boy after he said “pow” and shaped his fingers like a gun. The incident was marked in his permanent record but the record has since been cleared.
School Safety has become of paramount concern for both school officials and parents. Heightened awareness of violence in schools, particularly with regard to school bullying, has led many districts to implement professional training for staff members and detailed codes of conduct for students. Such actions are aimed at fostering a school atmosphere encouraging respectful treatment among classmates and a safe learning environment. However, schools are faced with the daunting task of striking an adequate balance between allowing children to engage in imaginary games and ensuring student safety. It can be difficult to explain to a young child why pointing their fingers like a gun is in appropriate when in the child’s mind they were simply trying to save the world from an alien invasion. Educating staff members on how to properly proceed in such situations can prove invaluable in creating a safer and more enjoyable learning environment as well as avoiding potential lawsuits.
If your institution has questions or concerns about this topic and you would like further information, please email Cynthia Augello at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 516-357-3753.
A special thanks to Cynthia Thomas a law clerk at Cullen and Dykman LLP, for help with this post.