Schools 'Hypersensitive' To Guns, Target Child's Play - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Schools 'Hypersensitive' To Guns, Target Child's Play

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USATODAY.COM - In Maryland, two 6 year-olds are suspended for using their fingers as imaginary guns. The parents of a Baltimore 7-year-old boy say he was suspended for nibbling his pastry into the shape of a gun. In South Carolina, a kindergartner is expelled for bringing a toy gun to school.

Those incidents, recounted in media reports across the country, signal a growing sensitivity to potential violence in schools - and how seriously school administrators are reacting.

Critics say it is an overreaction to children who are just kidding. But after shootings like the Newtown massacre, school leaders are taking tougher approaches.

Parents and some experts argue that children's innocence should not be taken away by adults who don't take into account age, intent, and the context in which actions take place.

"We shouldn't completely change childhood because of the political correctness police," said Army Staff Sgt. Stephen Grafton, whose 6-year-old son was suspended from a Trappe, Md. elementary school in January for using his finger as an imaginary gun. "This was completely baseless and ridiculous. School policies aren't developing kids anymore."

Grafton said his son, who is a Batman fan, was most likely mimicking his favorite character on White Marsh Elementary School's yard when other students told a guidance counselor that students were using their fingers as guns. The counselor then called the principal who decided to suspend the youngster for the rest of the school day, Grafton said.

Furious about the "overzealous and hypersensitivity," Grafton demanded a meeting with the school's principal and the Talbot County Board of Education. The officials agreed to remove the suspension from his son's record, he said.

Despite the outcome, Grafton says he fears other students may be disciplined for similar playful behavior.

Some school leaders say they must overreact rather than dismiss behavior that could lead to tragedies such as Newtown's, said Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.

"Parents have to be aware that talking about guns or using your fingers to point like a gun is no longer tolerable or prudent," Domenech said. "Everybody has to adjust. Children are being brutalized and murdered in their classrooms. It's a new world."

He points to incidents where children as young as 5 have taken guns to school.

Others question the reasoning.

"School folks have to have a rational approach," said Larry Amerson, president of the National Sheriffs' Association. "We can protect our schools but refuse to let those who do bad things take away the innocence of children."

Joe Kaine, a child psychologist based in Lutherville, Md., agrees. Officials must take into account a student's intent and developmental stage as well as the context in which such actions happen, she said.

Adults, at times, impose their reasoning and expectations on children who may be too young to understand mass shootings or even the concept of death, Kaine said.

"They (children) are really kind of confused," he said. "You can't have one size fits all for consequences."

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the nation's largest group of pediatricians , issued a statement saying automatically suspending or expelling misbehaving students is a "drastic" response that can actually keep schools from dealing with underlying reasons for students' misbehaving.

"Behavior is something a child learns," said Wisconsin pediatrician Jeffrey Lamont, who led the group that wrote the statement. "Intervention and support can help a child understand that that behavior is wrong and why. "

However, as more massacres and shootings occur, schools across the country will increasingly implement zero-tolerance suspension and expulsion policies, Domenech said.

Meanwhile, parents must know the policies and encourage their children to follow them, even if they disagree with such rules, Amerson said.

A spokesman for Anne Arundel County Public Schools where, according to FOX News, parents' claimed their son was sent home for shaping his strawberry tart into the shape of a gun stressed the importance of knowing and following the rules.

"Our administrators and teachers apply the code of student conduct to the best of their ability and judgement," said Bob Mosier, a school spokesman.

In a letter home to parents this month, school officials explained the incident: "During breakfast this morning, one of our students used food to make inappropriate gestures that disrupted the class. While no physical threats were made and no one was harmed, the student had to be removed from the classroom."

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