Superintendent stands by officers’ decision to arrest student

By Derrick Perkins

Police officers made the decision to arrest a 10-year-old student earlier this week, Superintendent Morton Sherman told the school board Thursday night, adding that he backed the action.

“There was a process that had to be followed,” Sherman said. “The police did what I think was appropriate as well.”

The fifth-grade child was arrested Tuesday morning after allegedly showing classmates a toy gun on the school bus the previous afternoon. Officials searched the boy’s backpack when he arrived at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School the next day and found the fake firearm. He was subsequently charged with brandishing a weapon.

Despite repeated inquiries, police officials have not said why the incident rose to the level where an arrest was warranted.

School officials have since suspended the child and raised the prospect of expulsion. Sherman said administrators had little choice, given the circumstances.

“Existing ACPS policy defines a toy gun as one of the pieces, one of the reasons that there should — not maybe, but should — be, and must be according to the policy, follow up disciplinary action, including suspension,” he said.

Administrators will continue to look into the incident and how it was handled, the superintendent said.

“We know the family well, we know the child well and we’re following through with both the child and the family with our social workers and other support systems,” Sherman said.

In the days since the arrest, ACPS officials have fielded a variety of phone calls and emails from parents, residents and people outside of the city, said district spokeswoman Kelly Alexander

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(7) Readers Comments

  1. This is a bit overblown. Typical knee-jerk reaction. I think scaring the kid straight was correct, but pushing to expulsion? Really?

    He saw all the gun-talk on the news, saw the shootings, and made a typical, young kid, bone-head mistake by “showing his gun” to his friends. He latched on to the sensationalism without realizing the life-and-death gravity of what that gun symbolized. How could he? He’s 10.

    I’m sure the police intervention scared the crap out of him. Have the parents and teachers talk to him, explain why it was wrong, make him apologize to his classmates and teacher, and resume normal school activities. Don’t use this kid to showboat how “tough” you are. Decisive action would not have taken until the “next day” to get the fake gun out of his backpack.

    Use the incident to teach the other kids, what not to do. Don’t demonize the kid and then pat yourselves on the back. You’re just fermenting fear.

  2. I will make a bet. I bet that Superintendent Sherman — or, at least, one or more of his friends — got cowboy get-ups when they were little, complete with that silly, silver, fake cowboy gun. I’ll also bet that no one, then, saw these little guys as being a menace — brandishing “weapons.” Everyone probably thought they were cute.

    I have no idea what the background of this child or his family is, but the fact he brought a toy guy to school is far more a society — and school — sin, than some little kid displaying something an adult obviously bought for him.

    Did the Superintendent/principal of the school make it CLEAR — even to a 10-year-old’s mind — that toy weapons were NOT allowed at school? And has someone explained to this child — and all others — that the toy weapons they are given are, in fact, considered real “weapons?”

    I’d suggest that the City of Alexandria — and everyone else — crack down on the sale of these toys by otherwise legitimate merchants, rather than tarnish this child so badly, if they truly believe that a toy gun is a danger.

    If you don’t want children to have toy weapons, ban their sale. Don’t ban the children.

  3. The superintendent must present this response. It is a way to deflect attention from the decisions made by ACPS. Top ACPS school officials made the decision to contact police about this child Tuesday morning after the gun in question was found to be a toy. Despite what was presented to the media and the public by ACPS, police officers were not at the school to meet this child when the child entered the school Tuesday morning. Police were not called to the school until a few hours after the child was already in the building and after school administrators determined the gun was a toy. Even after this discovery and the student being in the building for some time, ACPS school officials, in contact with the superintendent, made the decision to call the police Tuesday morning. The Times and other media need to fully investigate why the story put out by ACPS does not match the facts of this incident? Why do the statements of the district spokesman that this student’s contact information was erroneous not match up with the superintendent’s public comment that this child and the child’s family were” known to the district?” If the child was known to district officials, as the superintendent assured the board, why was contact not made sooner? Why would ACPS assure the public that police were at the school to meet this child Tuesday morning when they were not? Why did ACPS not lay out an exact timeline (to parents, staff, or the school board) as to how and when events unfolded? This child may not have parents who are able to pursue the questions and demand answers. Let’s hope the media and public can demand to know the facts instead of allowing the child to be punished for poor administrative decisions.

  4. The best thing for Superintendent Sherman to do is stop talking. His statements are inconsistent and mostly his opinion. Who cares what he thinks of what the police did? How is that any of his business? Now we are learning that the police were not laying wait at the school when the child showed up but were called later in the day.

    Mr. Perkins, please find out what really happened. This really looks like a political ploy from ACPS to make it a criminal proceeding to get rid of this kid. The vaunted “policy” was to take disciplinary action, making suspension appropriate. Yet ACPS and SHerman immediately forced a criminal complaint and raised expulsion. Why would they do that? Who was pressuring them and why? Was the Mayor informed before the arrest?

    And we are not even at the police department, who clearly do not have enough to do. How many officers were there? What investigation did they do? Who made the decision to bring what is obviously weak (to be charitable to the police) criminal charges? Who else was involved in that decision?

    This whole situation gets worse every time Sherman opens his mouth, and the statements made by ACPS, police and Commonwealth;s Attorney has all the indicia of a cover up..

  5. As someone with a child in an ACPS elementary school, I find this whole incident completely ridiculous and appalling. Sherman said, “The safety of our students is always our first concern.” That’s nonsense; if that were true then as soon as it was clear the matter was about a mere toy, then the toy would have been confiscated and everyone would have shut up and gone back to work. Zero tolerance is one thing. Zero common sense is quite another.

    I hope the Times will continue its investagation into the gross mishandling of this incident. Parents like me need to know what sort of decision makers run our kids’ schools.

    • Always be wary when an organization announces “Zero tolerance.” It usually ends in spectacular stupidity. Like here.

  6. I’ve done my research. The schools did not follow school policy regarding discipline for violations. (See school handbooks and compare it to Virginia code).

    The police made an arrest for a school policy violation. There was no violation of the law. None!

    When Supt. Sherman says he “had no choice” regarding suspension that was not true. Protocol was NOT followed no matter what he says. If you play the tape of the 2/7/13 school board meeting at the 3:01:50 point, he worded his defense in a way that was very disingenuous and misleading. Please, read the law and the student handbook and you’ll see the reasonableness that was available to all, and ignored by all.

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