Patrick Riley’s “Gun”

I admit up front that this next story caught my eye as both a teacher and a parent of two boys. It has me wondering if we are getting a little paranoid, especially in light of current events which have involved shootings.

This is the story of a little boy, Patrick Riley, who is adorable by the way, who attends Parkview Elementary School in the Midwest City-Del City district in Oklahoma. According to his mom, Lydia Fox, he is a typical 7-year old boy who loves action figures like GI Joes, pretending to be a soldier, and getting the “bad guys”.

Patrick got in trouble for pointing his finger in the shape of a gun at another student. In school spokeswoman, Stacey Boyer’s, written statement, she claims that this was not the first time that Patrick had been spoken to about making a gun with his hand and pointing it at other students. She further stated that the parent had been notified “on multiple occasions and has met with the principal to further discuss the ongoing behavior.”

Lydia Fox says this was only the second time she had been contacted by the school’s principal. She claims she talked to Patrick about following the school’s rules after the first phone call from the principal, but stresses that “it’s easy for 7-year olds to forget.” She also says that in her first conversation with the principal, she was not told that Patrick faced possible suspension if this behavior was repeated.

Yet, that is exactly what happened the second time. The principal called and told her that Patrick could be suspended for up to three days. In actuality, he was given an in-school suspension for a day, but his mother took him to school with her rather than make him serve the suspension in school. She stated that, “He doesn’t really see why he got in trouble. I don’t feel like he did anything to intentionally threaten or harass another student. It was just a 7-year-old boy being a 7-year-old boy.”

So, does the punishment fit the crime? Stacey Boyer’s statement on behalf of the school district argues the necessity for such severe action by saying: “It is the policy of Mid-Del Schools to address the disruption of the learning environment. Students have a right to pursue learning without the disruptions which may occur when another student chooses to be inattentive, overtly disruptive, or otherwise hinder the learning process. Any student who impedes the learning of others and/or exhibits a continued disregard for his/her personal learning opportunities will be subject to the following actions: being removed from class, parental contact, detention, in school restriction, suspension, other appropriate action.”

Lydia Fox maintains that her son, whom she says is a sweet and caring child and a good student, has been unfairly labeled, and she is fearful that the punishment he was given may have negative effects on him in the future. In an e-mail, she wrote, “As parents, we have the responsibility to ensure that our schools are providing quality education for our children without discouraging them from being children and exploring their own imaginations and interests.”

I wear two hats as I read this article. First, as a teacher, I understand the need to teach children at a young age to modify behaviors which might be distracting or problematic for other children. And I certainly would never condone or allow behavior which caused students in my classroom to feel threatened or fearful. If the children who were “aimed at” felt threatened, I would certainly sit down with the “hand gun shooter” and begin to work out a positive plan to change that behavior, understanding that he is most likely to slip up until the more positive behavior becomes habitual, which takes time. Was there any attempt by his classroom teacher to change the behavior over a period of time, or was it simply reported to the principal each time?

Second, I read this as a parent of two boys. I know that boys are naturally inclined to make guns out of anything and everything, and they have a natural instinct to shot at anyone or anything that stands still long enough to be a target with these fake guns. If one of my boys had been suspended for pointing a “hand gun” at a fellow student, I would have been pretty annoyed myself. Even if it was the second time they had been warned to stop, I would strongly argue that the punishment, an in-school suspension, does not fit the crime. Wasn’t there a more appropriate way to teach this young boy how to be socially appropriate? What about missing recess? What about writing an apology letter to the threatened student? Wouldn’t a behavior plan spelling out the positive as well as the negative consequences, clearly expressed to both the student and the parent, have achieved more lasting and productive results?

I have to believe that there was an alternative to the heavy-handed response chosen by this school system. What do you think?

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