Boy suspended for ‘gun gesture’ will have offense expunged from record

Posted Oct. 18, 2013, at 7:45 a.m.

WASHINGTON — A Calvert County, Md. sixth-grader who was suspended for making a gun gesture on a school bus in September will have the incident cleared from his records, according to the child’s mother.

The Maryland school system’s decision ends a case that added to a spate of disciplinary actions against students with imaginary guns in the Washington region. Children have been suspended for pointing their fingers like guns, carrying toy guns and chewing a Pop-Tart-like pastry into the shape of a gun.

In September, Calvert school officials had turned down a request from the 11-year-old boy’s family to remove the offense from his file. The boy had served a one-day suspension at Mill Creek Middle School in Lusby, Md., and his family argued that because his gesture was not intended as a threat, making the infraction a part of his permanent record went too far.

The boy’s mother, Carin Read, received a letter from a school official, dated Oct. 14, saying her son’s record would be expunged. The letter mentioned the “tightrope school officials and parents walk every day to provide the safest environment possible.” Read said she was told by phone that the decision was made because parental notification had taken so long in the case. Read was informed of the issue involving her son 26 hours afterward.

“Finally, I think they did the right thing,” Read said. “It was ridiculous to begin with.”

Calvert school officials said they could not discuss the case because student discipline matters are protected by confidentiality laws. But Kimberly Roof, director of student services, said appeals typically consider the facts of a case as well as whether a school has handled it in accord with county policies.

With parental notification, Roof said, there is no written timeline, but “the expectation would be that we would get ahold of the parent sometime that day, even if an investigation isn’t necessarily completed.”

School board members debated parental notification and other discipline issues at their Oct. 10 meeting and discussed changes to the district’s weapons policy. By a vote of 3 to 2, the board adopted changes that will give school administrators more flexibility when they encounter students with look-alike weapons.

The review of the weapons policy followed the case of a Calvert kindergartner who was suspended for having a cowboy-style cap gun on a school bus. The 5-year-old had wanted to show the toy to another boy.

School board member Joseph Chenelly, who voted against the policy changes, said they are positive but do not do enough to clarify how Calvert should respond to student mistakes that are not serious threats.

Chenelly said a dozen families have told him about suspensions for incidents that did not pose serious harm.

Nancy Highsmith, interim superintendent of schools, told the board that the new policy will guide district staff in creating procedures that would be a move away from zero tolerance, “making sure the age-appropriateness is there,” for example.

Still, she rejected the idea of considering a student’s intent, saying educators cannot know what’s in someone’s mind.

She spoke of a difficult balancing act.

“We live in a very different time now,” Highsmith said. “School violence — that’s all kids hear, that’s what teachers hear, that’s what parents hear, and we have been given a very difficult charge of ensuring that all of our students are safe.”

With such issues as parental notification unresolved, Calvert’s board voted to examine the district’s broader discipline policy in coming weeks. The board’s first discussion is expected Nov. 14, and the process could stretch over a couple of months.

Read, the mother of the suspended sixth-grader, testified at the board meeting. So did the mother of the kindergartner suspended for having the cap gun.

“I plan on fighting this, even though my son’s case is done,” Read said. “There are still other children that are being traumatized by this.”

 

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