Something made the local (and some national) news earlier this week, that has to stand out as one of the most shocking, ridiculous overreactions from school officials I have ever seen.
This past Wednesday, March 22, a 5-year-old boy at the Central School kindergarten in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, was standing in line to get on a school bus with his friends. His parents had recently taken him on a February vacation trip to a Wild West-themed park in Arizona, where they bought him a plastic toy cowboy gun and a cowboy hat. Sounds perfectly normal, right? Well, hold on.
That boy, Jonah Stone, showed the plastic toy six-shooter to another kindergarten student standing in the bus line to go home this past Wednesday. The result? This 5-year-old boy – a kindergartner – was pulled off the bus, taken inside the school, and held inside the school principal’s office. His mother, Christina Stone, was summoned to the school, where she was informed that: 1) This 5-year-old boy had violated the school’s policy on “guns,” and 2) That he was being suspended from the school for a day as “punishment.” For the sake of importance, I repeat here: This boy was 5-years old, and this “gun” was – quite obviously to anyone seeing it – a PLASTIC cowboy six-shooter. The boy’s mother, Christina Stone, found her 5-year-old son held in the principal’s office WITH A POLICE OFFICER. The boy was trembling, so scared that according to his mother, he was swallowing his tongue. Mrs. Stone told reporters that the principal, Mildred Katzman, very sternly reproached her and her son, and told Mrs. Stone that when she got home, she should sit down the 5-year-old, and tell him all about the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, where 26 people were killed in a shooting tragedy.
As a Boston, Massachusetts gun offenses lawyer, I cannot believe that this was done to this child. To say that this was an “overreaction” is far too anemic a characterization. If this kid was 15, I could see this response. The school shootings that have occurred have involved teenagers at the high school level (15, 16 years old.) But SUSPENDING a 5-year old kindergartner from school? For having a plastic toy gun? The people in this school system need to get real, and get perspective: This wasn’t a high school kid carrying a semi-automatic assault rifle. It wasn’t even a grammar school kid. It was a KINDERGARTNER – and these idiots were fully aware that this was a TOY.
Following this story generating widespread media coverage, including the The Boston Globe and The New York Daily News, the town of Hopkinton School Committee denied that they had any advance knowledge of the principal’s actions against the boy. His mother, Christina Stone, told reporters that “I think they’re trying to make an example of (my son”), and threatened to go to the Boston chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Reporters contacted Hopkinton School superintendent Steven Hiersche’s office, but he declined to be interviewed. Suddenly (and “miraculously”) the school lifted the boy’s suspension, however brief it was.
Can you say “Frustrated school principal who lacks any discretion and wants to seem important”? Let’s not hear “You can never be too careful.” No, the answer to Newtown and similar events isn’t wild overreaction and histrionics. It’s common sense. What’s next? Charging a 4-year-old, who throws something from a baby carriage, with assault?
I can believe the Hopkinton School Committee’s denial that they had any knowledge of this principal’s actions, given the timing of this event. But now that they do know, here’s a suggestion: Suspend this principal for a day, and require her to attend a class called “Discretion and Context In Decision-Making: How To Avoid Histrionics and Needless Drama.”