- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The Calvert County Board of Education confirmed Monday the disciplinary record of a 5-year-old boy who was suspended in May for bringing a toy gun on a bus was cleared by the superintendent “in its entirety.”
Calvert County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith said in a June 26 letter to Robin Ficker, the attorney representing the boy and his family, his decision was based on information from officials at the school, Dowell Elementary, and from an appeal filed by the boy’s family. The letter states Smith reviewed the record, “carefully considering both the needs of the student and those of the school system.”
“I think he made a wise decision under the circumstances,” Eugene Karol, president of the board of education, said. “We have a 5-year-old child here.”
The boy’s mother, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her son’s privacy, said she is pleased with the outcome of the case for her family. In a previous interview, the boy’s mother said she was looking forward to the day when her son could put the incident behind him.
“Nobody really knows what my son has gone through,” said the boy’s mother, who is also employed as a teacher in the Calvert County school system. “He had grown and learned so much [in kindergarten]. That was taken away from him that day, instead of making it a moment where he could have learned.” She said she hopes a conversation will be had as to what the community feels is the best way to serve the children and not “let hysteria rule the day.”
On May 22, the kindergartner was suspended for 10 days after he showed off his orange-tipped cap gun to a friend on the bus ride to school, according to a school system news release. The principal was notified of the matter and brought the boy into the office, where he was questioned without a parent present and, his mother said, uncharacteristically wet himself. Neither parent was called immediately, according to the boy’s mother.
After the family appealed the suspension, the boy’s punishment was reduced to three days. However, the request to have the incident wiped from his record was initially denied.
Last week, Ficker sent a five-page appeal to Kim Roof, executive director of school administration, calling for the board to “reverse the suspension of, expunge the record of, and request ... a public hearing,” regarding the case.
In the appeal, Ficker wrote that a May 31 statement on the school system’s website regarding the issue, claiming the “Principal was told by a staff member that there may have been a gun on the bus,” was untrue. According to the appeal, the only adult on the bus was the school bus driver who allegedly knew immediately that the cap gun was a toy. The appeal also states the boy’s mother was not contacted until three hours after the incident occurred, even though according to a release, the school says the boy was questioned for five to seven minutes.
According to the Calvert County Public Schools 2013-2014 Student Code of Conduct, weapons include any object that is a lookalike weapon, even though it is incapable of operation, and a student may be suspended for any action considered disruptive and/or detrimental to the operation of the school. If the offense is serious or illegal in nature, it may warrant a suspension on the first offense. The principal determines when a student should be suspended and the length of the suspension. The student is given an opportunity to learn what he or she is accused of doing and given the chance to explain, and the principal should make every reasonable effort to notify the parent or guardian by telephone, according to the code.
“I would like to see that, as we move forward, that we remember that a child’s education is most important and it includes the school setting and the parents as partners, which is not what happened here,” the boy’s mother said.
School board member Joe Chenelly said the incident raised a few questions that need to be answered by the board, such as at what stage of an investigation parents should be notified, whether the age of a child should be considered when handling incidents and how schools should handle incidents involving toy guns and lookalike weapons.
After the December 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., school administrators across the nation are taking such incidents more seriously. Ficker said he is also appealing the record of a boy in Anne Arundel County who was suspended for chewing a breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun.
“I am pleased with the decision and look forward to being able to take a closer look at the details of this incident as we consider policy reform,” Chenelly said. “I want to ensure we can learn from this so that administrators have the ability to handle future situations in the most appropriate manner possible.”
According to Chenelly, the board was not fully informed of the details of the event while appeals were being processed. Because of the sensitive nature of the case regarding student discipline, Chenelly said members will need to request the full report during an administrative session in order to determine how the current policies were implemented and if they need revision. Once conversation about specific policy reform occurs between the board, an open session may occur, he said.
Gail Bennett, spokesperson for the school system, said Smith could not make a public comment as this is a student discipline issue. School board members Tracy McGuire, Dawn Balinski and vice president Kelly McConkey could not be reached for comment before time of press.
“We have a wonderful school system; we have good people here,” the boy’s mother said. “This is not who we are. We need to remember who we are and get back to that.”