Fifth Grader Suspended from School for Pretending to Shoot with his Finger

boysplayingThis article in The Boston Globe caught my attention last Thursday. Evidently this boy was waiting in line for lunch and having a pretend “shoot ‘em up” game. He jumped ahead of two girls in line who told him not to cut. He returned to his place, but they report that he pointed his finger at them and made shooting noises and then pretended to blow off “the gun barrel.” The girls felt threatened and told an authority. The school officials took this behavior as a “threat” and followed their procedure for threats: a two-day suspension.

The boy’s father felt this was inappropriate. He talked to the assistant principal and also shared this event with the local newspaper. School officials stood by their decision as a matter of policy and considering that the girls may have really felt threatened. However, the chair of the school committee disagreed.

I probably cannot imagine the pressure school officials feel to keep schools safe. Nonetheless, I think that these children were ill-served because the school officials were bound by a strict policy.

What do I think should have happened? Perhaps someone in the school could have a good problem solving discussion with this boy and the girls. I would like to see a meeting between the boy and the girls in which the girls can tell him that they found his behavior frightening. He should know that this is not an appropriate way to communicate anger or frustration.

I also hope that adults could help the girls to understand that the boy’s behavior did not put them in danger. One unfortunate outcome of the way the school reacted is that it gave credence to the girls’ fears.

Such a discussion would give each side a chance to explain their behavior so that the other side can understand. Then together they could try to come up with other ways to manage the situation. This process is collaborative problem solving. It is a process that helps children to develop empathy for each other, and it teaches them problem-solving skills.

Perhaps people in the school officials did try something like this in addition to the suspension. I hope so, because the suspension did not each any of the children anything, and it deprived the boy of two days of school.

I would be happy to hear what you think about this incident. Please respond!


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Photo credit: Taylor Ward on Flickr

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