Kindergartner suspended for talking about bubble gun
(CNN) — A 5-year-old girl chats up classmates while waiting for the bus after school. The topic: Playing with a Hello Kitty “bubble gun” that, with the flick of a finger, blows bubbles everywhere.
“I’ll shoot you, you shoot me, and we’ll all play together,” the kindergartner says.
The next day, that remark — which was made innocently, according to the lawyer for the girl’s family, who related the story — landed the young central-Pennsylvania child in the principal’s office.
Soon after, she was sent home after being issued a 10-day suspension for a “terroristic threat,” as indicated on the suspension form signed by Mount Carmel Area Elementary School Principal Susan Nestico. That and other documents were provided to CNN by Robin Ficker, the lawyer representing the girl and her mother.
Nestico did not respond to a request Monday from CNN for comment. The superintendent’s office for the Mount Carmel Area School District did issue a statement, stating that “by law we cannot officially comment on the specifics,” while expressing confidence that the story circulating in the media “may not be consistent with the facts.”
“When given the opportunity in the appropriate forum, we look forward to presenting information that will portray our school district in a more positive light,” the school district said.
While the girl and her family haven’t spoken on the record — and asked not to be identified — their attorney, Ficker, has. He said the child has been very upset since the incident, even after the school system shortened the suspension from 10 to two days.
One piece of evidence he points to is a letter from a professional counselor, an appointment requested by the school, who talked to the suspended girl and her mother two days after the incident. In it, the therapist describes the child as an apparently “typical 5-year-old by temperament and interests” with no history of mood swings, irritability, depression, attention deficit disorder, learning issues or other problems.
Also, according to the counselor’s letter, the girl had “no play guns or play knives,” either in the bus line or at home, where her mother prohibited them.
“It would appear that (the girl) does not have those risk factors identified for violent behavior,” the therapist wrote. “It would also seem that (she) had no harmful or predatory intent in the comments she made to her friends about the bubble ‘gun’ but did not recognize the heightened sensitivity and awareness of her friends and the response that may result from her comments.”
The story began around 3:15 p.m. January 10, outside the school in Mount Carmel, a community of fewer than 6,000 people about 60 miles between both Harrisburg and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
That’s where the girl and her friends, whom she “loves,” began talking about a “princess” bubble blower and a Hello Kitty bubble gun. The reason, she told the counselor, was that one of her friends likes princess toys and the other likes Hello Kitty.
During this conversation, the kindergartner admitted she talked about shooting the bubble gun.
Then she went home happy, positive and outgoing, just as she’d gone to school, her mother told the counselor.
The next day, the girl was called in front of a teacher, according to Ficker. Then she sat down with a school administrator and, eventually, the principal.
The subsequent suspension form, issued that day, lists another girl as a “victim.” It doesn’t elaborate on what happened, but it does mandate a 10-day out-of-school suspension or a “medical/psychological evaluation given (the) nature of (the) offense.”
On January 12, the suspended girl met with the counselor, both independently and with her mother The therapist wrote that he found no evidence or history of behavioral issues or poor parenting and determined “it appears (the kindergartner) engages in positive peer relationships.”
The counselor also noted that the child was aware of last month’s deadly shooting at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school that ended with 27 people — including 20 children ages 6 and 7 — dead.
As to her own feelings about talking about shooting in her conversation with her classmates, the girl told the counselor, “I didn’t mean anything bad.”
On January 14, the Mount Carmel Area Elementary principal issued a second suspension letter, which superseded the previous one. Noting no criminal complaint was made “due to (the) ages of the children,” she cut the suspension down to two days while changing the categorization of the incident from “terroristic threat” to “threat to harm others.”
Now that the girl has returned to school, her family has two goals, according to Ficker: to get an apology and to get the suspension expunged from her record in part so she can transfer to another school.
The school system hasn’t done so, though the lawyer said there is a meeting involving him, family members and school officials set up for January 30 on the matter.