Two 7-year-old Virginia boys were suspended from elementary school for playing a game of make-believe in which they pointed pencils at each other, pretending that they were machine guns.
Christopher Marshall, a second grader at Driver Elementary School in Suffolk, Virginia, was sent home and suspended for two days for making machine gun noises while pointing a pencil at his classmate, who was also suspended. A teacher noticed the two boys making the noises, and proceeded to pull them out of the classroom and take them to the principal’s office on May 3.
"I got a call from Christopher's school at 12:30 on Friday," one boy's mother, 34-year-old Wendy Marshall, told Yahoo! Shine. "His teacher told me that Christopher and his friend were playing with pencils, making machine gun and 'bang bang' noises. I asked if they were pointing the pencils at anyone else, if they were angry or hostile, disrupting class, or refused to stop when asked -- and the teacher said no.”
Paul Marshall, the boy’s father, told Fox 43 that his son was simply pretending to be a Marine, like he was for many years. Both parents believe the school overreacted in suspending their child for two days, and refused to punish him for it.
"He was shaking with fear and didn't understand why he was in trouble,” the mother told Yahoo. "So we reenacted the scene and I told him that he did nothing wrong… I let him drink soda too. I’m not going to punish him.”
The 7-year-old spent two days playing Mario Go Kart on his Wii, helped clean the house, and was allowed to eat ice cream. His parents contacted the local news station to tell their story and explain the school’s reaction to make-believe games.
“I find it ridiculous that he cannot use his imagination and be a boy,” Mrs. Marshall told the New York Daily News. “When my son wants to pretend he’s a Marine or a Navy pilot like his granddad or an auto mechanic like his other granddad, I don’t think that should be an issue.”
Mr. Marshall said school administrators failed to use common sense and suspended a child who has no history of class disruption and who has good grades.
“It’s gone too far. Enough is enough,” he told Fox. “Where do we draw the line? A pencil – was it sharpened? Was it new? Is it a No. 2? I mean what’s the big deal? He’s just being a kid.”
Bethanne Bradshaw, a spokesperson representing Suffolk Public Schools, defended the principal’s decision, claiming that that school has a zero-tolerance policy for weapons and that pencils could be considered weapons if they are pointed at someone in a threatening way.
“It’s an effort to try to get kids not to bring any form of violence into the classroom, even if it’s violent play,” Bradshaw told the New York Daily News. She told Fox that the behavior demonstrated by the two 7-year-old boys could be intimidating to other students, especially after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School left 26 people dead.
“Some children would consider it threatening, who are scared about shootings in schools or shootings in the community,” she told Fox. “Kids don’t think about ‘Cowboys and Indians’ anymore, they think about drive-by shootings and murders and everything they see on television news every day.”
Ever since the shooting in Newtown, similar incidents have appeared throughout the US. In January, an elementary school student was sent home for building a gun out of legos. In February, school administrators in Virginia suspended a 10-year-old for bringing a toy gun to school – and the same thing happened in Massachusetts in March. And a 7-year-old Colorado boy was suspended in February for pretending to throw an imaginary grenade and trying to save the world from evil.
But in each of these cases, parents argue that the school administrations are taking their policies too far by punishing innocent children who are simply using their imaginations.