Administrators with Hoke County Schools in North Carolina are once again proving that no overreaction is too big for inconsequential situations. Two weeks ago, they suspended a 5-year-old girl for pointing a stick that looked like a gun at a boy.
A few days later, after a national outcry, they stood by their asinine decision. Or at least, they stood as well as they could with their heads up a place heads normally don't go.
Last week, Caitlin Miller was playing "King and Queen" with two of her friends during recess at J.W. McLaughlin Elementary School. Her friends were the queen and princess, and Caitlin was the bodyguard. She even found a small stick that looked sort of like a gun.
When another boy approached them, she reportedly pointed the stick and made a shooting motion. The boy told a teacher, who then sent Caitlin to the main office.
That's when the administration went in to full-on overreaction mode. According to WTVD News, school officials said Caitlin "posed a threat to other students when she made a shooting motion." She must not have been that dangerous, because they only suspended her for one day, citing policy 4331.
Meanwhile, her mom Brandy called the media. She said her daughter never intended to hurt anyone, and that she was just playing like any normal 5-year-old would.
When Caitlin returned to school, Brandy said her daughter had been alienated by her friends and teacher, and she hoped the school would issue an apology.
Of course, apologizing means you think you've done something wrong, and that you're not a zero-tolerance bully who took things way too far.
Needless to say, people were appropriately outraged, and the story made the national news. In fact, the reaction was so overwhelming, Hoke County school administrators had what local media called "an emergency meeting" about whether they could have maybe possibly gone a wee bit too far in suspending a five-year-old for being a five-year-old.
(Hint: If you have to ask whether you did, then you did. And if you hold an emergency meeting about it, then you definitely did.)
Hoke County school officials issued a statement that said they "will not tolerate assaults, threats, or harassment from any student. Any student engaging in such behavior will be removed from the classroom or school environment for as long as is necessary to provide a safe and orderly environment for learning."
If you've ever been in a situation where someone purposely over exaggerates something you do — like accusing you of waving your arms wildly when you actually only held your hands up and shrugged your shoulders — you know how badly Hoke County administrators are acting. A 5-year-old pointing a stick is not a threat.
When I was a kid, we played finger guns and "shot" each other all the time. And then we spent the next five minutes arguing about it.
"I shot you, you're dead!"
"Nuh-uh! You missed! I was behind the tree!"
"Nuh-uh! Your butt was sticking out and the bullet grazed the tree and hit you in the butt!"
"Nuh-uh! The bullet would have bounced off if it grazed the tree!"
And then we descended into a bunch of 8-year-olds having a shout-debate about ballistics and physics, and it stopped being fun.
But this is a clear case of adults not understanding or remembering how kids play. "It is our duty to ensure the safety of our students and staff. Therefore, we respond to all threats in a serious manner and take appropriate action," Hoke County administrators also said in their statement. "Even those non-threats that everyone knows don't actually mean anything and can be solved with a simple conversation."
Well, it should have said that last part, but we are talking about school administrators. Of the ones I've encountered, I only know a few I would trust to make the smart decision.
Look, a high school kid waving a baseball bat around is a threat. A kid who flings peanut butter at kids with peanut allergies is a threat. But a 5-year-old shouting that she's going to shoot a palace intruder with a stick is not an actual threat. It's a knee-jerk overreaction by people who forfeited their common sense when they got their first tiny whiff of power.
Rather than trying to teach Caitlin that "you shouldn't say you'll kill people," they chose the nuclear option and turned this into a much bigger situation than it needed to be.
It sounds like they're the real threat to an orderly learning environment.
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