Patrick Timoney's "Gun"
The "zero tolerance" stories just don't stop, despite court decisions and legislators demanding "common sense." A 2" hunk of plastic isn't a gun, unless you're a hysterical grade school principal who demands that 9-year-olds in your care sign confessions when they bring a toy to school.
Weekly Weird News
From True's 7 February 2010 issue:
The Weight of the Evidence
Patrick Timoney, 9, was playing with Legos at lunch time at Public School 52 on Staten Island, N.Y. He particularly liked the policeman figure, since his father is a retired cop. But the boy was hauled into the principal's office for possession of a gun -- the tiny plastic one held by the Lego policeman. "They made me sign a statement," the tear-stained fourth-grader said. "She told me to write that I had a gun," he said. "She said, 'A gun is a gun'." The boy's mother had something to say about that. "This principal is a bully and a coward, and needs to be held accountable," said Laura Timoney, 44. "Why didn't anyone step up with an ounce of common sense and put an end to the harassment of my child?" (New York Daily News) ...That's your job now. It's time to sue.
That principal, Evelyn Mastroianni, doesn't have to rely on her own prejudices to figure out what to do with toy guns. I was able to locate a copy of the New York City's Department of Education Citywide Standards of Discipline and Intervention Measures, subtitled "The Discipline Code and Bill of Student Rights and Responsibilities" for K-12 (Kindergarten through 12th Grade). The copy I found (download here; PDF, 299K) is dated September 2008, and since I couldn't find a later one I suppose it's still current. At the very least, it shows that someone in the city's Department of Education has been urging some level of common sense for some time.
To begin with (p3), school officials are told that "prior to determining the appropriate disciplinary and/or intervention measures, the following must be considered: the student's age, maturity, and previous disciplinary record...." (bolding and underlining from the original). There were no indications in any of the reports I read that Patrick Timoney had any sort of discipline problems before, and in fact he loved school.
In the section on "Level 4" infractions (p16) for Kindergarten through Grade 5, which outlines that it is an infraction to possess "any weapon as defined in Category II", the policy goes on to urge:
Before requesting a suspension for possession of an article listed in Category II for which a purpose other than infliction of physical harm exists, e.g., a nail file, the principal must consider whether there are mitigating factors present. In addition, the principal must consider whether an imitation gun is realistic looking by considering factors such as its color, size, shape, appearance and weight.
The principal "must consider whether there are mitigating factors present"? What a concept! And note it says must, not "should". And the principal must "consider whether an imitation gun is realistic looking by considering factors such as its color, size, shape, appearance and weight." In other words, a gun is not a gun is not a gun: its color, size, shape, appearance and weight must also be considered before declaring a toy gun is a "weapon."
(A "Category I" weapon includes a real gun; "Category II" includes imitation guns but, again, only after consideration of its color, size, shape, appearance and weight.)
And all of this is before getting to the "Range of Possible Disciplinary Responses" to infractions outlined in DOE policy:
D. Parent conference
(There is no A-C.) One doesn't get to this list until the principal considers the factors that she "must", and then the first suggested "response" is a parental conference -- and in this case, even that would be an overreaction.
"A principal has the authority to suspend a student for 1-5 days when a student's behavior presents a clear and present danger of physical injury to the student, other students or school personnel," the policy clearly explains (p26), "or prevents the orderly operation of classes or other school activities."
Now, take a look at this photo of the toy in question and consider whether it's a weapon which "realistically" represents a "clear and present danger" of physical injury to students, thus requiring an immediate suspension (note the photo is approximately actual size):
If Ms Mastroianni truly thinks so, she's in severe need of retraining; a student teacher should have enough experience to know what to do when confronted with this outside of classroom hours: enjoy an innocent child's playtime. I'll bet Ms Mastroianni considers herself a "professional" educator, too! Yet she doesn't have the sense of a first-year teacher.
Mastroianni's actions constitute not just an overreaction, but an outrageous overreaction -- "actionable" in lawsuit parlance. The kid wasn't playing with the toy in class, it was during his lunch hour. There's no indication he was "shooting" at anyone with the "gun", either. There's absolutely no justification for the reaction she had.
Laura Timoney, the boy's mother, agrees: "You don't traumatize a child who loved to go to school, who wanted to be early every day to school, you don't make him cry, you don't make him fill out statements," she said in a TV interview, her eyes filling with tears. "You don't do it."
Yet that is exactly what the school did. It terrorized a child in its care -- for nothing. He was treated as a criminal, made to sign a confession of trumped-up charges, and his spirit destroyed. And if the school doesn't make this right, it's time for a lawsuit. And another in the next case, and another in the case after that, until school officials get it through their thick heads that they're there to protect and nurture children, not destroy them. But Ms Timoney should be warned: a lawsuit is a long and expensive process, as we've seen in previous cases. They're not for the timid.
"The Citywide Standards of Discipline holds students accountable for their behavior," the school policy reads (p3). That's fine, if done in an age-appropriate way, as the policy urges. So will Principal Mastroianni be held accountable for her destructive behavior? When?
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