Officials jettisoned common sense when they arrested a 10-year-old

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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