Schools use own judgment in handling students playing with make believe weapons

Feb. 18, 2013 at 6:05 p.m.
Updated Feb. 18, 2013 at 8:19 p.m.

Justin McElveen came home to a teary-eyed pre-kindergartner after his son was reprimanded for creating a make-believe gun out of his fingers.

The Victoria resident's son was written up after the Newtown, Conn., shooting that occurred on an elementary school campus.

The father said while he understood the heightened sensitivity toward guns on his son's elementary school campus, his 5-year-old son did not.

"He was so scared that he was in trouble," McElveen said. "Somebody must have told him that they were getting police involved also because that's all he cried about that night."

But the O'Connor Elementary School student was not suspended - unlike several other students across the country who have been suspended because of their districts' "zero tolerance" policies.

Two 6-year-old Maryland boys were suspended for using their fingers to make imaginary guns during a round of cops and robbers.

A Massachusetts boy was threatened with suspension for making a gun out of Legos.

A 5-year-old Pennsylvania girl was suspended for talking about shooting a Hello Kitty bubble gun.

While some other school districts have strict zero tolerance policies when it comes to the portrayal of a deadly weapon, Victoria school district spokeswoman Diane Boyett said, VISD campus principals are allowed to exercise judgment on punishment for such references.

"Our campus administrators and even classroom teachers can weigh the circumstances around a child's behavior," Boyett said. "By the time they get to middle and high school, kids know what they're doing."

Boyett said the last time a VISD campus confiscated a gun from a student was during the last academic school year.

"We thankfully have not had any other incidences," Boyett said.

But in December, a few days after the Newtown shooting, a student from Cuero High School was arrested for bringing a deadly weapon to campus.

Since then, the Cuero school district has ramped up security at its campuses.

CISD superintendent Jim Haley said his principals use common sense when it comes to the portrayal of deadly weapons on campus.

"If it's a gun and it fires projectiles, then we would deal with it accordingly," Haley said. "Otherwise, we would send them to a counselor."

John C. French Elementary School principal Kim Fleener said she would not suspend a student for playing with a make-believe weapon.

"We see that as a natural part of growing up," Fleener said. "We don't want them to miss instruction just because of something they've heard or seen on TV."

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