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Florida House aims to protect school kids who play with imaginary guns

By   /   February 6, 2014  /   No Comments

By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Jordan Bennett was suspended from his central Florida public school last year for playing cops and robbers.

The 8-year-old’s crime? Using his thumb and forefinger to mimic a gun.

WFTV

SUSPENDED: A Central Florida eight-year-old was tossed out of school for mimicking a gun with his thumb and finger.

Kids in other states have faced similar, if not harsher, punishments for brandishing fake or imaginary firearms in their schools.

In the last 12 months, a seventh-grader in Rhode Island was suspended over a miniature toy gun keychain knickknack. A 7-year-old boy in Maryland was suspended for chewing a “Pop-Tart-like pastry” into a shape resembling a handgun, and in South Carolina a 6-year-old girl was expelled for bringing a plastic toy gun to her class.

A letter from the South Carolina school district informed the girl’s mother that her daughter would be “subject to the criminal charge of trespassing” if the 6-year-old was found on school property or at any off-campus school sponsored activity.

All of these incidents could repeat in any of Florida’s school districts depending on how the districts enforce their student codes of conduct.

Federal and state “zero tolerance” policies designed to target school violence and end horrific school shootings such as those at Sandy Hook, Conn., and Columbine, Colo., allow school boards to apply penalties for actual firearm and weapon possession to students who simulate gun use while playing.

But a new proposed committee bill in the Florida Legislature would put an end to treating young students like violent offenders. A state House education proposal would prohibit school disciplinary action for the following:

  • Brandishing a partially consumed pastry or other food item to simulate a firearm or weapon
  • Possessing a toy firearm or weapon that is two inches or less in overall length
  • Possessing a toy firearm or weapon made of plastic snap-together building blocks
  • Using a finger or hand to simulate a firearm or weapon
  • Vocalizing an imaginary firearm or weapon
  • Drawing a picture of, or possessing an image of, a firearm or weapon

Children wearing clothing or accessories relating to the Second Amendment — for or against it — would also be exempt from school punishment unless it was determined to “substantially disrupt” student learning.

The harsh penalties are mostly seen as a backlash from a string of highly publicized school shootings.

“Parents have to be aware that talking about guns or using your fingers to point like a gun is no longer tolerable or prudent,” Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, told USA Today.

“Everybody has to adjust. Children are being brutalized and murdered in their classrooms. It’s a new world,” he said.

Other groups, such as the National Association of School Psychologists, are offering alternative strategies to zero tolerance rules that could extend to the recent school enforcement expansion aimed at elementary school kids that may not understand the consequences of playing cops and robbers.

NASP says zero tolerance policies are “complex, costly and generally ineffective.”

With respect to actual school firearm or weapons offenses, rather than toy guns, the group recommends school counseling and non-disciplinary student interventions.

The proposed bill passed unanimously, 13-0, out of the House K-12 education subcommittee Wednesday.

Contact William Patrick at wpatrick@watchdog.org or follow Florida Watchdog on Twitter at @watchdogfla Like Watchdog.org? Click HERE to get breaking news alerts in YOUR state!

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William Patrick covers government waste, fraud and abuse for Watchdog.org's Florida bureau. His work has appeared on numerous media websites, including Fox News and the Drudge Report.

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