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Culture Beat / June 18, 2016

Judge Rules Suspending ‘Pop-Tart Gun Kid’ Was Justified

The story became the poster child for the zero-tolerance policies run amok.

The story became the poster child for the zero-tolerance policies run amok. In March 2013, a second-grader in Maryland who was eating a breakfast pastry chewed his meal into the shape of a gun. That act earned him suspension after he pointed the weaponized pastry at other students. “Public schools are indoctrinating our children to fear guns both real and imaginary, under the banner of ‘zero tolerance,’” we wrote when the news first made national headlines.

Now, three years later, Judge Ronald A. Silkworth, who presides over Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, ruled that the school district was right to suspend the boy. “[A] suspension was appropriately used as a corrective tool to address this disruption, based on the student’s past history of escalating behavioral issues,” Silkworth wrote. The incident occurred in the weeks following the Sandy Hook massacre. Teachers and administrators were on edge. Furthermore, the kid had joined the school mid year. As Reason’s Katherine Mangu-Ward pointed out, the school’s records show that the boy on several occasions banged his head repeatedly on walls and his desk. He threw a chair. And at one point, he punched another student.

A recent study found that zero-tolerance policies increased the number of suspensions and expulsions but did nothing to reduce the overall disruptions caused by students. “Pop-Tart Gun Kid” needed discipline, and probably help, but the school district used its zero-tolerance policy to punish him for an action that any other kid might do.

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