Opinion Your Views — 14 February 2013
Officials jettisoned common sense when they arrested a 10-year-old

To the editor:

I am alarmed about the arrest and detention of a fifth-grader at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School in Alexandria because he brought a toy gun to school. I have learned the boy has been suspended and Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Morton Sherman is considering expulsion.

The reaction by the school, the principal, the Alexandria Police Department and the superintendent is excessive and unacceptable. Nothing in the reports about this incident suggest that any common-sense approach to dealing with this matter was taken.

School rules exist for the safety and protection of students and teachers to shape a hospitable learning environment and — if reports about the toy are true — the 10-year-old boy clearly violated the rules. This fifth-grader should be punished and disciplined appropriately. I would normally defer a method of punishment to school administrators, but based on their response to this incident, it is clear their only solution is and will be castigation.

A suggested recourse for the boy could include writing letters of apology to his schoolmates, completing a community service project or working within the school to educate other students about safety. Instead, the child was arrested by police, placed in juvenile detention, suspended from school, and presently faces expulsion and the probable stigma of being a troublemaker for the rest of his life. I would be amiss if I also don’t point out the legal costs and court fees that these parents will be responsible for thanks to this overreaction.

Our community and culture expect that the boy be punished. However, I believe school and public safety authorities have failed to adequately and effectively deal with this matter and have set a dangerous precedent for other students in our community. It is glaringly obvious the boy will be condemned because the simple appearance of a weapon near a school — real or otherwise — presently incites panic and unreasoned reaction.

School safety is a serious issue, and I do not take the discussion about violence in our society, gun control or mental illness lightly. I am frightened and disturbed by the reactionary responses to school safety during this debate and examination of violence in society and gun control.

As a parent with two small, school-age children, I face a daily challenge of preventing dolls, sporting equipment and action figures from being smuggled onto campus where they will undoubtedly become distractions to a healthy learning environment. I’m worried that one day a miniature toy sword, a bubble-maker or a finger pointed to look like a pistol will be all it takes to have our kids thrown into the slammer. We must insist that school administrators have the courage and flexibility to deal with these issues more effectively — with an emphasis on common sense.

Children make mistakes, and when they break the rules, they must be punished and held accountable. There are better ways to teach this boy a lesson.

- Charles Faulkner
Alexandria

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(6) Readers Comments

  1. Mr. Faulkner is absolutely correct. This was nothing more than a false alarm that was handled in the worst possible way by our officials.

    This child did violate ACPS policy, but policy allows for the application of good judgement and graduated discipline. The schools over-reacted shamefully. You can’t be arrested for violating school policy — you must violate the law. In fact, Virginia law (22.1-277.07) related to weapons at schools allows for “no disciplinary action” if circumstances warrant it (and this was a toy).

    The police made an improper arrest, based on a reading of the applicable Virginia code. The actual circumstances around the charge of “brandishing a weapon” reflect a situation where there was neither “brandishing” nor a “weapon” based on Virginia law. Read the code for yourself. Section 18.2-308.1 and Section 18.2-282.

    What should have happened? They should have confiscated the toy, sent the boy to class, then taken a deep breath, researched policy and law, and responded with calm and good judgement. Perhaps a one day suspension, at worse. How traumatic this must have been for the child. For a toy.

    Please Alexandria, stand up for this child. If we don’t overturn this precedent, your kids may be one squirt gun away from arrest.

  2. Alexandria Times — Please change the image of the smoking gun accompanying this article to a plastic toy gun for something that is more appropriate to the story. Also, thank you for covering this story. Please keep providing updates.

  3. I don’t see how the writer can post an article without even knowing what exactly happened. It’s ignorance like this that plagues our news stories. This child was 10 and should know the rules. Furthermore, he was carrying the gun in his waistband, lifting his shirt to scare others. This child has on going behavior issues and his mother was charged stemming from drug dealing in 2012.

    I was told the police contacted the juvenile court, explained the situation, and asked for their advice. The prosecutors and juvenile system advised the police to charge him. If schools have zero tolerance policies in place, you can’t fault the employees for following policy.

    • Editor’s note: James, thank you for commenting. Let me just point out that this is an opinion piece and not a news article. Thanks again for reading.

    • Whoa.
      Ten year olds “should know better”, really? Who made you the arbiter of what a 10 year old should know? Do you have a 10 year old at home who assured you that he and all his friends were cognizant of every rule made up by ACPS? Please.

      The cops originally said “it was standard procedure”. Then the police said “that they were called to the school by administrators and that they always prefer to respond immediately to potential threats. “If we were able to investigate right away, the outcome might have been different,” (blaming the school administrators for their actions) now you, who are in some position to know what the conversation between the police and court was which means you are either leaking information that is a crime to disclose or you’re just passing along unsubstantiated gossip. Which is it?

      Please link to explain how you know he had a toy gun in his waistband and was scaring the other children? The surveillance tape from the bus shows one girl looking into his backpack and no respondent hysteria.

      The real danger here is misguided reactions by adults in almost every sphere. You guys keep this up and you’re going to have the cops reacting to small children who have eaten their sandwich into the shape of a musket mowed down by police fire.

  4. I am still upset over this racial profiling of a young child under the cover of post Sandy Hook concerns. The Alexandria School District posture here is unforgivable and offends many.Step

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