Zero Tolerance: Kid Suspended For Pantomiming Bow And Arrow Shot With His Hands
December 9, 2013 by Ben Bullard
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 childâ€™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 systemâ€™s zero-tolerance weapons policy.
Hereâ€™s the Rutherford Instituteâ€™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 Johnnyâ€™s held his folder like an imaginary gun and â€śshotâ€ť at Johnny. Johnny playfully used his hands to draw the bowstrings on a completely imaginary â€śbowâ€ť and â€śshotâ€ť 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 Johnnyâ€™s mother, Beverly Jones, alerting her to the â€śseriousnessâ€ť of the violation because the children were using â€śfirearmsâ€ť 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 Johnnyâ€™s behavior was a serious offense that could result in expulsion under the schoolâ€™s weapons policy. Horton characterized Johnnyâ€™s transgression as â€śmaking a threatâ€ť to another student using a â€śreplica or representation of a firearmâ€ť 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 Johnnyâ€™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 districtâ€™s code of conduct prohibits the possession of weapons, as well as â€śreplicasâ€ť or â€ślook-alikesâ€ť on school grounds. In Johnnyâ€™s case, the schoolâ€™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.
â€śNo 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,â€ť attorney Douglas R. McKusick wrote in a letter to the superintendent. â€ś… 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 protectedâ€¦ There is no reason that Johnny should be stigmatized and branded a miscreant due to the schoolâ€™s unreasonable application of its zero tolerance policy against him.â€ť