ONTD Political

Maryland first-grader suspended for pointing fingers at friends, saying 'pow'

2:11 am - 01/03/2013
Maryland first-grader suspended for pointing fingers at friends, saying 'pow'
By NBCWashington.com

A Maryland first-grader has been suspended for pointing his fingers like a gun at school.

The boy, a student at Roscoe Nix Elementary School in Silver Spring, was suspended for one day. The incident happened a week after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Conn.

The family's attorney says the 6-year-old was playing with friends, not making threats.

"Evidently, he was pointing his finger at someone and saying, 'Pow,'" said Robin Ficker, an attorney for the family.

The boy's parents were scheduled to meet with school officials Wednesday.

The school system will not comment on individual disciplinary matters. But they did issue a statement detailing their typical procedure with younger students.

"Generally, in an incident involving the behavior of our younger students, we will make sure that the student and his family are well-informed of any behavior that needs to change and understand the consequences if the behavior does not change," said Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Dana Tofig in a statement.

Additional Source

OP: They suspended him?! Talk about having no common sense. SMH.
chaya 3rd-Jan-2013 02:48 pm (UTC)
The source link takes you to the comments. Please fix this.
dhamphir 3rd-Jan-2013 09:04 pm (UTC)
Fixed. And sorry about the slow reply. I posted this and then went to bed after being up all night.
missjersey 3rd-Jan-2013 03:03 pm (UTC)

What was the context of playing? Were the other kids making the same gestures and noises? Did one of the other kids get scared. Has this been a rule for a while now?

I get why he shouldn't have done it but let's be honest; kids have been playing games like "cowboys and indians" on the playgrounds for decades. I dunno, I don't think he should have been suspended.
kyra_neko_rei 3rd-Jan-2013 08:14 pm (UTC)
Yeah. I could see it if he was deliberately scaring other kids, or if the teachers had announced to the whole school that they were either starting a new rule about playing at guns being not allowed, or that the students needed to start paying attention to the rule that was already there because they weren't going to let it go anymore.

Because it seems to me that a lot of punitive interactions with children involve yelling at them or punishing them for things they weren't aware of doing wrong, rather than explaining it to the child at the first instance and correcting the behavior first. And this is often deeply distressing to the child, even tainting their enjoyment of activities they were engaged in at the periphery of their mistake; in the other direction, it could lead to the child becoming disdainful of authority because zie sees it as wrong, unjust, or unreasonable, which can have complications down the line.

They really ought to make sure the kid knows rather than surprising him with such heavy-duty, you-should-be-ashamed-of-yourself, potential furious-parents-as-well type punishments.

(I also would prefer to see the teachers hang back and watch a bit more of the interaction, TBH. If he was indeed playing with friends, they might have been "shooting" back at him, and to see and punish one rulebreaker while the others get away with it even though they were just doing the same thing gives the impression that punishment is unfair and rules are a matter of not getting caught. (And, as someone who was punished multiple times for retaliating against a bully whose original actions the teacher "didn't see," more teacher awareness of the context surrounding any one kid's actions would be helpful in other situations too.

Edited at 2013-01-03 08:21 pm (UTC)
redstar826 3rd-Jan-2013 03:06 pm (UTC)
oh good grief. I see that kind of play all of the time when I work in the lower el grades
the_physicist 3rd-Jan-2013 03:13 pm (UTC)
I find it hard to believe that if the school gave out suspensions just for that, even if they only decided to do that after Sandy Hook, that it took so many days for them to suspend a kid for it... I dunno. I guess I want to assume there must be something more to it, because if it was during normal play it seems rather odd. Unless the school had made a big thing about telling everyone in class that any kind of toy guns or pretending to shoot other kids even for play wasn't okay. Like, I can still see a teacher possibly over-reacting, but I don't know... they'd have to be really knew. Or, the school would take back the suspension straight away after a phone-call.
redstar826 3rd-Jan-2013 06:52 pm (UTC)
some schools can get really jumpy about this sort of thing. For instance, when my brother was in high school, they had to do a collage about their hobbies. He included a picture of a paintball gun. And he even put the word "paintball" under it so it was clear that is what he was referring to. And his teacher still reported it, and the school wanted to force him into counseling to determine whether or not he was 'a threat to school safety' until my mother pitched a fit and they thought better of the idea.
coraki 4th-Jan-2013 07:32 am (UTC)
Back when I was in HS. One student was caught making out a list of student names (this was just before Columbine). He claimed it was a list for those to participate in paintball. There were many on the list that had no interest in paintball or had been spoken to about it. Because of that, the guys that regularly formed paintball teams in the warmer months were no longer allowed to mention paintball or talk to other students about teams for paintball while in school.

I don't know what happened to the student, but I don't think his punishment was much at all if anything.


My school HS only got more jumpy after Columbine.
redstar826 4th-Jan-2013 05:40 pm (UTC)
I got really lucky by graduating the year before Columbine. I heard that my school became much more strict about a lot of things after I left.
lickety_split 5th-Jan-2013 06:52 pm (UTC)
My elementary school suspended a girl for bringing (get this) an emery board to school, and that was back in the 90's. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the school suspended this kid JUST for pulling this one move.
the_physicist 3rd-Jan-2013 03:09 pm (UTC)
At issue, Ficker told News4's Jackie Bensen, is whether the boy understands the implications of the gesture. After speaking to his young client, Ficker is convinced that the boy does not.

"He doesn't understand," Ficker says. "The law says he is not old enough to form intent."

I know the comment is about this one incident, but still, the intent can't be key when it comes to punishing a kid. There would be a lot of bad behaviour from kids that could not then be punished. There are only so many rules a teacher can tell a kid, you have to let parents do some of the parenting. So if a kid is naughty in a way they weren't explicitly told by a teacher is bad, they can't be punished? I think the kindergarten and elementary school system might break down then.

I can't tell from the news articles what the situation was. If it was just some kids playing around and messing with each other, having fun and a teacher randomly intervening. Or if there was an argument between some boys and one was throwing a strop and decided that rather than apologise to another kid, he wanted to shoot him instead and did that gesture or whatever. Or what the usual punishments are and the general standard of behaviour there. At a college I taught at you basically had to pull a knife on someone to possibly get suspended, white at another school it was enough if you didn't tuck your shirt into your trousers and got warned once to many times about that. Some schools give out detentions or suspensions like candy...
kyra_neko_rei 3rd-Jan-2013 08:51 pm (UTC)
Well, there's something to be said for making sure the kid is aware of the rules the first time. Blindsiding a kid with punishment for a rule he didn't know he was breaking isn't the best way to instill respect for and trust in authority as fair and just and rational.

That said, you're also right about the problems of the "what hasn't been forbidden is okay" concept as applied to small children who can't always understand the consequences, and often aren't taught to consider the effects even if they're knowledgeable enough about what they're playing with.

I remember reading once about a summer camp program that had replaced "don't do X" rules with "consider Y" rules. I.e. instead of "don't kick/hit/slap/knock over/slam into other kids" they had "be kind/considerate," and in the orientation kids were encouraged to ask "is this kind?" before doing an action, and if the answer was no, don't do it. This covered not only the obvious suspects like hitting or kicking, but also the obscure stuff like putting worms in someone's bed that a list of Don'ts wouldn't have thought to cover. Another rule was about being respectful/aware of nature, which covered things like damaging plants or trees and also remembering information about poison ivy and bees and suchlike.

That sort of rule, unlike "don't do X," calls the child to engage with the rules and consider their actions and become aware of the effects and properties of the stuff they interact with. That means the child is actively thinking about the rules, with being good as an interesting, engaging goal that provides a sense of accomplishment in continuing to figure out. (Whereas with the current system, too often it's misbehavior without "technically" breaking the rules that provides that engagement, challenge, and sense of accomplishment.)

And the sort of accidental rulebreaking that might be the case here can be corrected by suggesting to the child how X behavior could fail to be Virtue Y. That way, the child who has made a mistake will most likely perceive the correction as the introduction of a new fact ("pretending to shoot people can scare them") leading to a new conclusion about acceptable behavior ("scaring people is not kind. therefore pretending to shoot people can be unkind. cool, I didn't know that.") rather than leading the child to a sort of resentful shame ("I didn't know that was wrong! Nobody told me, why am I being punished? Teachers are MEAN." or "Why didn't anybody tell me? I don't want to be bad!")

Of course you do need a few explicit Don'ts to make sure they don't miss some, but a list of expectations about what qualities good behavior should emulate ought to eliminate the inference that those are the only things that are forbidden.
kishmet 4th-Jan-2013 07:26 am (UTC)
I know the comment is about this one incident, but still, the intent can't be key when it comes to punishing a kid.

Totally true. In this case it's the degree of punishment that's the problem, though - I could see taking the kid aside and talking through why it's not allowed, but even detention would be going way overboard here.

And tbh I'm betting the kid saw Avengers or something and decided fake-gunning would either be fun or a good problem-solving technique. Obviously a discussion still has to happen, but it's not fair to suspend a six- or seven-year-old for playing at something he's seen presented as fun/heroic a million times (not that I think you're arguing in favor of the suspension, but I just wanted to point out that intent/awareness can be taken into account in terms of punishment severity for a kiddo this age)
the_physicist 4th-Jan-2013 09:35 am (UTC)
I think both suspensions and detentions are ludicrous punishments that have no effect if you use them liberally. But, eh, what's really important is more the consistency of the punishments. If similar misbehaviour at the school gets you suspended... :-/ I don't know the US education system.
kishmet 4th-Jan-2013 08:20 pm (UTC)
Gotta admit I don't know it real well either; I was homeschooled from third grade on. Based on my experience suspension just seems too extreme for a first grader - the kid who regularly picked fights with me smashed my glasses and gave me two black eyes and we both just went to the principal's office for a lecture. But bear in mind this was over fifteen years ago and I'm not sure whether this is a public or private school.
the_physicist 4th-Jan-2013 08:57 pm (UTC)
it seems ridiculous to me, but maybe it makes sense in the context of the school's policies over all. probably not, but i really wouldn't know.

at my school no one every got detention or suspensions. i only remember one person getting detention once and that was for drawing on tables with coloured pencils i think. idk. others were arrested by the police in the middle of class and the school didn't give a shit. XD my school was a state school with a GTFO policy when it came to grades though. get bad grades and you got kicked out. only half the people i started highschool with actually graduated with me. the rest had been kicked out.
thecityofdis 3rd-Jan-2013 03:23 pm (UTC)
Well, surely this school's brave and noble stand will help us put an end to gun violence once and for all.

Fucking morons.
atomic_joe2 3rd-Jan-2013 03:24 pm (UTC)
We used to re-enact scenes from Nightmare on Elm Street and Schwarzenegger movies at school when I was a kid. Admittedly we were about 10 years old, probably older than this student here. Never did us any harm.
wikilobbying 3rd-Jan-2013 04:01 pm (UTC)
i know it's only a one day suspension, but was he harassing another student or were they doing some 'cops and robbers' type of play? had he gotten into trouble before? i ask because i feel like i get where they school is coming from, and i think we should look critically at the way violence and gun violence is so normalized that it's common in pretend play among children. i'm just not sure that some one-day suspension is effective here. i mean, you gave him an extra day of winter break, good job? then again, i don't know how necessary it is for the parents to be getting lawyers involved, either. is there no other way for the parents and the school to communicate with each other about this problem, or did they exhaust that option already and nothing productive came out of it?

idk my general feelings on this is 'lol adults'
redstar826 3rd-Jan-2013 07:03 pm (UTC)
in my experience, even if he was harassing another student, at that age it would be a time out during 'free choice' time or a missed recess or something like that rather than a suspension.
wikilobbying 3rd-Jan-2013 07:40 pm (UTC)
that's more along the lines of what i was thinking. even for in-school suspensions, i think how well that works depends a lot on age. like i said, the school essentially gave him an extra day of winter break and i doubt the kid would see that as much of a punishment.
chaya 4th-Jan-2013 02:04 am (UTC)
Seriously. Even finger-guns WITH MALICIOUS INTENT~ do not require pulling the kid out of school for a day.
kishmet 4th-Jan-2013 07:36 am (UTC)
I 100% get where the school's coming from too, but holy overreaction, Batman. It's funny (aggravatingly funny) that we're willing to suspend first graders for emulating movie/tv/comic book heroes and not to examine that normalization of gun violence you mentioned.

Of course I think the parents are overreacting too because come on, during the time when I was in public school I would've been thrilled to have an extra day off lol. They should fight for new policies at the school but lawyering up is just... what
redstar826 4th-Jan-2013 05:43 pm (UTC)
In most cases, I've never really understood the point of suspending kids. I can see in school suspensions where they are isolated from the general group and made to work quietly, but I don't like the idea of just having the kid stay home. I suppose they are hoping that will motivate the parents to act because they don't want their kid at home, but in my experience a lot of the kids who get suspended on a regular basis are already struggling students and more time away from school is the last thing they need.
ultraelectric 3rd-Jan-2013 04:09 pm (UTC)
Talk about an overreaction.

What is the point of a one day suspension? Seriously. I mean, if he was a real threat I bet he'd have more than 1 day, plus the school councilor would be all over that as well. When I was 6/7 I was actually threatened by a classmate who said he was gonna follow me home and kill me and my babysitter. That's a real threat and a real concern, not a kid playing "guns and robbers" like majority of kids his age.
kyra_neko_rei 3rd-Jan-2013 08:56 pm (UTC)
I remember receiving threats to run me over on the way home from school (I walked; most of my classmates drove). My teachers informed me that they were "obviously" joking.

Sometimes it seems like they come down harder on the innocent play while actual bullying gets shrugged off as the play it isn't (especially ironic when the bullying gets called play to exempt it from the punishment that play gets when it strays across certain lines). It's as though, bullylike themselves, the authorities are focusing on the easy victims while letting the actually harmful stuff go because it would require more effort to challenge.
zharia 3rd-Jan-2013 05:16 pm (UTC)
I know this seems silly but the school does this so it is protecting itself. I worked at a summer work camp for kids (part of the Boys Town organization, if anyone knows anything about them) and we had to take EVERYTHING seriously. You know how it's pretty common when you're outside in 95+ degree weather to say things like, "oh my god it's so hot I'm gonna dieeee,"? Well, if any of the kids said anything remotely similar to that, using phrasing in that manner, or even things like "it's killing me!" We HAD to contact a superior. Immediately. And the kid was usually 'punished' for it (they received demerit type points which contribute positively or negatively to after school/work privileges). So I agree with the school taking a active stance on this kind of play, behavior, and word use. We did it to protect us and the kids, because you NEVER know when a kid is doing it for attention as opposed to joking.

The difference here is that the kids I worked with were informed of this, it was emphasized to them. The school should do the same thing. If they choose to protect themselves and their students in this manner they need to make it clear that this behavior, no matter how "jokingly" it is done will always be investigated and punished if necessary by the school.

I don't see this as ridiculous or stupid seeing as we have people in this country suggesting our teachers carry guns. Encouraging children to not engage in fake gun play is far more responsible, even if isn't executed in the best way.

tl;dr I don't agree with the way they did this, but I agree with the sentiment.
sfrlz 3rd-Jan-2013 07:29 pm (UTC)
Yeah exactly... when I was in elementary school ~16 years ago we had this same policy. Mimic guns at all (pointing fingers, bringing nerf guns to school, etc) and you were suspended.
chaya 4th-Jan-2013 02:05 am (UTC)
What are they protecting themselves from when they enforce these kinds of rules?
zharia 4th-Jan-2013 04:17 am (UTC)
from my original comment: "because you NEVER know when a kid is doing it for attention as opposed to joking." Especially since Boys Town is part of the juvenile justice system in the state where I worked. And this goes schools as well, if they don't pay attention to a threat or a 'joke' that a child made and it turns out it was a cry for help, or a hint, it could have serious repercussions. Boys Town itself has had once incident in the past of a child attempting suicide, which is why they implemented these rules in the first place. Not taking chances with the lives of children is a pretty decent thing to do.
kishmet 4th-Jan-2013 07:42 am (UTC)
Yeah, I think it's more appropriate if it's emphasized to the kids, and also if they're at an age where they can remember that kind of rule. First graders do legitimately forget stuff sometimes so a serious talk would be more effective than a suspension tbh

I also really have a problem with... idk how to put this. I guess punishing kids under twelve-ish for behavior that's commonly modeled in media and by the adults around them? Then those adults don't have to take a hard look at their own behavior because the kids take the fall, and that's not fair.
kitschaster 3rd-Jan-2013 05:27 pm (UTC)
Considering how much this country is now trying to put guns into school, I could make several cynical comments about this boy and his finger-gun being suspended from school for one day.

That poor kid. This wasn't deserved at all. They're hurting a kid's record, because OMG, HE'S MIMICKING GUNS. Ugh, gimme a break, y'all.
kaelstra 3rd-Jan-2013 05:34 pm (UTC)
Suspending a 6 year old for pretending = going to stop adults from getting shitloads of guns and storming into a school and killing people, apparently?
kyra_neko_rei 3rd-Jan-2013 08:01 pm (UTC)
"Generally, in an incident involving the behavior of our younger students, we will make sure that the student and his family are well-informed of any behavior that needs to change and understand the consequences if the behavior does not change," said Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Dana Tofig in a statement.

Gee, maybe that would have been a good idea in this case?

That said, maybe teach kids about the concept of triggers, the courtesy of avoiding play that's likely to be upsetting to their classmates, and the habit of initiating play by inviting others to join in rather than just going up to them and doing something to them.

I was in third grade when our teacher told us to avoid playing games involving death at recess one day because one of our classmates had just lost a grandparent.

I don't know if another kid's distress was part of the issue this time (if it were a kid deliberately scaring or bullying others by running up and shooting them, I'd agree that a suspension is called for), but teaching the kids to say, "do you want to play [cops and robbers/war/alien invasion]" rather than going up to random bystanders and going "Bang!" would be helpful to the goal of teaching them thoughtfulness and courtesy.

Plus it will be the repetition of an already-ingrained lesson when they grow older and sex ed comes around and they explain "ask/invite before doing," "enthusiastic consent," and "yes means yes." (Don't I fucking dream.)
mskye 3rd-Jan-2013 09:07 pm (UTC)
I can feel my brain leaking out of my ears!
__nocturna 3rd-Jan-2013 09:22 pm (UTC)
That's dumb.
miss_makiba 3rd-Jan-2013 11:22 pm (UTC)
Succinct. I like it. :)
archanglrobriel 3rd-Jan-2013 09:54 pm (UTC)

Good lord. Let's not solve any of the -real- problems that can lead to school violence. Let's BY ALL MEANS sanction the "pew pew" of six year olds.
nesmith 4th-Jan-2013 12:33 am (UTC)
Okay, so--little kid makes a common gesture with his fingers and gets suspended, while at the same time we have people seriously talking about putting actual guns in school.

Have I dropped into Bizarro Dimension or what?
roseofjuly 4th-Jan-2013 12:53 am (UTC)
I don't know, I just don't feel like we have enough information to go immediately to criticizing the school. Maybe the rule has been in place for a while and this kid was a repeat offender, or maybe he had been told several times earlier not to do that and even punished for it before, or maybe he was harassing other students or pretty much anything else. And I know that the article is trying to connect it to the CT shooting, but that's because the journalist is trying to sell newspapers. This decision perhaps has nothing to do with the CT shooting and maybe he's not the first first-grader ever at this school to be suspended over this.

I'm not saying that it was a good idea or well-advised, but there's no full story here either.
wikilobbying 4th-Jan-2013 03:19 am (UTC)
i noticed that, too. there's tons of details missing. it would also be helpful for them to say a little bit about the process of parents trying to get a suspension repealed or how things between the parents and school admin have gotten to this point, because personally i'm sitting here tilting my head like, "wait we got lawyers involved here?"
dhamphir 4th-Jan-2013 03:38 am (UTC)
That's good, but he really shouldn't have been suspended to begin with for playing with his friends.
nikcool 4th-Jan-2013 03:42 am (UTC)
He really shouldn't have, I agree.
ennifer_jay 4th-Jan-2013 06:48 am (UTC)
OMG Silver Spring is right next to where I live ahahaha was not expecting that when I started reading this article.
livetuned 4th-Jan-2013 03:02 pm (UTC)
reminded of tf2 for some reason

in all seriousness, thats a really ridiculous reason for suspension.
sunhawk 5th-Jan-2013 04:10 pm (UTC)
Read about this here: http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/1309918--school-suspends-first-grader-for-pointing-finger-saying-pow

This article is a bit longer and mentions:

Montgomery schools spokesman Dana Tofig said he could not discuss individual students for privacy reasons. But in a written statement, Tofig said the suspension “was not a kneejerk reaction to a single incident.” .... Responding to questions from the family’s attorney, school officials later offered more detail, responding in a letter that an assistant principal had warned one parent that the child’s behaviour could lead to a suspension. At school, a counsellor “had an extended conversation” with the child to emphasize “the inappropriateness of using objects to make shooting gestures,” and an assistant principal had talked to the boy about the “seriousness” of the issue, the letter said.

“Yet, after the meeting with the counsellor and assistant principal, [the boy] chose to point his finger at a female classmate and say ‘Pow,’ “ wrote Judith Bresler, the school system’s attorney.
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