In Jefferson County, Alabama, a first-grader at Bagley Elementary School found himself facing suspension over what used to be considered child’s play — a game of “cops and robbers.” The young student was sent home because he used his index fingers as a “gun” during recess. While the school initially labeled the act as a “3.22 Threat” violation, a category that includes serious bodily harm or violence, the charge has since been downgraded to a “class II infraction.”
Jarrod Belcher, the boy’s father, recalls his conversation with school administrators, stating, “I asked her, I said, ‘Well, did he threaten anyone?’ ‘No.’ ‘Was there violence?’ ‘No.’ ‘Was there any indication of a current or future threat?’ ‘No.'” In light of the questions, the disciplinary action seems rather excessive, even with the school’s claim that “in this climate, this day and age, we have to take all incidents very seriously.”
Alabama school suspends 1st-grader for making finger gun while playing cops and robbers, says outraged parenthttps://t.co/j4mpVjFqsi
— Sharon Garner (@G95538006Sharon) September 9, 2023
Given the larger societal debates around gun rights and gun control, the incident has sparked outrage from both concerned parents and gun rights organizations. Gun Owners of America partnered with attorney M. Reed Martz and Alabama’s BamaCarry to demand the school remove the incident from the young boy’s record. “No reasonable argument can be made that J.B.’s conduct fits with this prohibition,” Martz noted.
Are we becoming so sensitive as a society that even a child’s innocent game can be categorized alongside serious offenses? Senior Vice President of Gun Owners of America, Erich Pratt, said the situation “demonstrates an ‘anti-gun mindset’ that pervades many communities.”
The disciplinary action also highlights a discrepancy in the school’s policies. Physical aggression, such as hitting or pushing another student, is considered a less severe class II infraction. This suggests that Bagley Elementary finds imaginary “finger guns” more threatening than actual physical harm. In Martz’s words, “J.B. would be subject to a lesser maximum penalty had he punched the other student in the face!”
Though the boy has been allowed to return to school, the incident will remain on his record unless the school complies with Martz’s demands for its removal. As for Jarrod Belcher, his simple wish for his son is one many parents can likely agree with: “What they should have done was pulled him to the side and said, ‘Hey, this is not appropriate at school,’ and that should have solved it.”
While safety should be a top concern for schools, striking a balance between caution and common sense is critical. In their haste to set an example, Bagley Elementary School administrators may have overlooked the essence of childhood — imagination and innocent play.