Dramatic overreaction: teacher suspends kid for playing with food

Last week, there was a holdup in a 2nd grade classroom. Or at least that’s what Joshua Welch’s teacher assumed when she witnessed the boy playing with his food.


Joshua, a 7 year old at Park Elementary in Maryland, nibbled his pop-tart-like pastry into the shape of a gun. The moment he pointed it at another student he was reprimanded by the proper authorities and his parents received a rather unexpected phone call home. Instead of a stern talking to or perhaps a lesson on violence, school administrators felt the need to suspend the Joshua for violently threatening another student.


The school went further and sent a letter home to parents encouraging them to discuss the harmful incident with their own children, for fear that snack time might strike again.


Is this real life?


In the wake of the horrific shootings of last fall, it is completely understandable for our country’s educators to be sensitive about the issue of firearms. We all learned of the tragic events across the nation and our hearts went out to the victims and their families.


But I think this may be an overcorrection. It is not that the initial response was wrong per se, but once the teacher and the principal realized that this child was playing with his food, don’t you think a two-day suspension and a phone call home seem a tad excessive?


Concerning as this story may be, it is not an isolated incident.


In January, two 6 year olds in Talbot County, Maryland were suspended after playing cops and robbers at recess using their hands and fingers as pretend weaponry. That incident came just weeks after another 1st grader, in Montgomery County, Maryland was suspended for saying “pow “ while holding an imaginary gun.


Then there was that 5 year old girl from Pennsylvania who was labeled a “terrorist threat” by her school’s administration and subjected to psychological evaluations after she was overheard talking to a friend about shooting each other….with hello kitty bubble guns. The kindergartner was suspended for 10 days. According to the girl, her teacher told her she could go to jail for her actions.


Again, the heightened sense of security and sensitivity is natural, and even encouraged if a teacher or parent can make a lasting impression about gun violence. What crosses the line is when, after analyzing the scale of the incident, school administrators follow through with suspensions and punishment for children who are not developed enough to understand the ramifications of their play. Teachers are in great positions to help their students learn from such experiences, but I do not agree that scaring the student or giving the child a break from school is going to solve the problem.


These children are not evil and their actions are certainly not threats to society or their peers. If there is a concern about the gun culture in America, teachers and educators should react reasonably to innocent kids at play. Perhaps a guiding story or piece of wisdom could do a lot more good than a suspension and a media storm of confusion for such a young person.