Zero Tolerance: Kid Suspended For Pantomiming Bow And Arrow Shot With His Hands

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In October, a Pennsylvania boy was suspended from school for playing make-believe with a classmate. The silly tale involves no props or weapons — just hands, imagination and the ruinous intervention of adults to quash what should be free, unremarkable and productive child’s play: the unencumbered, improvised activity kids crave as they learn to share the world with others kids.

Instead, the lesson 10-year-old Johnny Jones is learning is that he has to share the world with idiots — adult ones. The Rutherford Institute, a Virginia-based civil liberties nonprofit, learned of his suspension and decided to take on the South Eastern School District in Fawn Grove, Penn., for its overzealous enforcement of the system’s zero-tolerance weapons policy.

Here’s the Rutherford Institute’s synopsis of what transpired:

The incident took place the week of October 14th, when fifth grader Johnny Jones asked his teacher for a pencil during class. Jones walked to the front of the classroom to retrieve the pencil, and during his walk back to his seat, a classmate and friend of Johnny’s held his folder like an imaginary gun and “shot” at Johnny. Johnny playfully used his hands to draw the bowstrings on a completely imaginary “bow” and “shot” an arrow back. Seeing this, another girl in the class reported to the teacher that the boys were shooting at each other. The teacher took both Johnny and the other boy into the hall and lectured them about disruption. The teacher then contacted Johnny’s mother, Beverly Jones, alerting her to the “seriousness” of the violation because the children were using “firearms” in their horseplay, and informing her that the matter had been referred to the Principal. Principal John Horton contacted Ms. Jones soon thereafter in order to inform her that Johnny’s behavior was a serious offense that could result in expulsion under the school’s weapons policy. Horton characterized Johnny’s transgression as “making a threat” to another student using a “replica or representation of a firearm” through the use of an imaginary bow and arrow.

Attorneys from the Rutherford Institute are asking that South Eastern School District Superintendent Rona Kaufmann rescind Johnny’s suspension and remove all references to the incident from his permanent record, giving the district until Dec. 13 to respond before considering possible legal action.

The school district’s code of conduct prohibits the possession of weapons, as well as “replicas” or “look-alikes” on school grounds. In Johnny’s case, the school’s faculty and administration allegedly construed the pantomiming action of drawing an imaginary bow as an act that, in some transubstantial fashion, replicated the real weapon. Even more absurdly, they regarded the exchange between the two boys as adversarial, threatening and indicative of imminent violence.

“No reasonable argument can be made that the imaginings of a 10-year-old boy, completely lacking any actual, tangible device, represented a ‘replica’ or a ‘look-alike’ of an actual gun,” attorney Douglas R. McKusick wrote in a letter to the superintendent. “… This atrocious misapplication of rules originally intended to protect students while on school grounds is foolish and actually damages the future of the children meant to be protected… There is no reason that Johnny should be stigmatized and branded a miscreant due to the school’s unreasonable application of its zero tolerance policy against him.”

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.