When I read about the five year old student in Modesto, Calif. who was recently suspended for “terrorist threats”, I thought that I was reading something from The Onion because this could not be real!
Turns out, I was wrong. This did in fact happen.The student apparently told his teacher he had a bomb in his backpack. I don’t believe it was necessary to suspend the student. This incident could have been handled differently. The parents were upset, and rightly so, and demanded that the disciplinary action be removed from the boy’s record. And it should be. Having said that, there should be some conversations with the child about why he would say that. Maybe find out where he got the idea to say such a thing. But this is another example of what I call extreme discipline. The punishment does not fit the crime.
It’s important to help teachers and administrators not overreact to these kind of things, especially with small children. These kind of write ups and suspensions in a child’s cumulative folder will stay there throughout their academic lives and could be used against them in future disciplinary actions causing harsher consequences up to and including incarceration and introduction in the juvenile justice system. Here’s how it works:
- Little Johnny gets suspended in 1st grade for bringing a butter knife to school. He accidentally put it in his backpack when he was getting ready for school, and a student reported seeing it in his backpack. Little Johnny gets suspended for three days for the incident.
- Little Johnny gets suspended in 3rd grade for “mutual combat” with another student. They were “play wrestling” in the line at school. Both kids were suspended. Little Johnny gets a five day suspension, and the other child has no previous record so he gets a day suspension.
- Little Johnny receives a citation and a week long suspension in 5th grade when he pushed a student who was bullying him, another mutual combat situation, but Johnny has these two previous incidents on record. When Little Johnny, now 11, goes to court for the citation, the family is required to pay a fine and Little Johnny is placed on a three- year probation. Welcome to the Juvenile Justice Johnny. If you get into any kind of trouble in the next three years, you will be expelled and incarcerated.
- Little Johnny plans to go to a friends house after school and has some toys in his backpack, including a toy squirt gun. He makes the mistake of showing it to his friends during lunch time (because he is a still a kid in the 8th grade), and the school police see him and arrest him for having a weapon at school. Johnny is in his last year of probation. He is handcuffed and taken to juvenile hall. His parents are not called for several hours. He is not afforded any Miranda rights. He is not afforded an attorney. He is taken to jail based on his school record, and the fact that he is on probation. Little Johnny is sentenced to a year in juvenile hall…the rest is history.
Maybe we should just talk to Little Johnny and find out why he has a butter knife in his backpack or said he has a bomb. Maybe we could provide counseling to make sure he is ok, instead of immediately resorting to harsh punishment. Let’s think twice before we put these five year olds on a path toward the juvenile justice system.
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