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Local District Goes to Police for Kindergartner With Down Syndrome Who Said 'I Shoot You'

Tredyffrin-Easttown officials acknowledge she meant no harm, the girl's mother says, but that its policy required them to contact police.




A Chester County school district referred a 6-year-old Wayne girl to police after she pointed her finger at a teacher and said "I shoot you."

Her mother, Maggie Gaines, says the district acknowledged Margot simply showed "an expression of anger or frustration with no intent to harm anyone" after a teacher asked her to change classrooms at Valley Forge Elementary School. There was no other disciplinary action, but the district did contact Tredyffrin Township Police. This, her parents say, was an overreaction.

"I am well aware that we live in a time when parents are concerned for their children’s safety in school. When I think of incidents at Parkland High School or Sandy Hook Elementary School, I too am haunted and disgusted," wrote Gaines in a statement she gave to a school district committee in January. "But I also think our society and our schools across the country have overreacted with respect to perceived threats, resulting in even finger guns wielded by kindergartners being viewed as cause to alert authorities."
 

Students with special needs and zero tolerance

Schools' zero-tolerance policies have been an issue with parents of children with special needs, who frequently end up caught up in the policies. Gaines raised that issue with the district as well.

"Students, like my daughter Margot, who have intellectual disabilities, are disproportionately disciplined in school," she wrote. "Data collected from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights found in a report published in 2018 that students with disabilities accounted for 28 percent of referrals to law enforcement or school-related arrests, 26 percent of out-of-school suspensions and 24 percent of expulsions."

The school district said it stood by its decision to involve police in the matter, although it raised the possibility of discussing its policy further, according to Inquirer.com

Lisa Lightner, a special-education advocate from West Chester, PA, suggests parents, especially those of children with special needs, find out what their school's policies are and contact the school board if they believe they should be changed.

"Parents can also ask to have items put in the child’s IEP or Behavior Plan to alert staff of behaviors that could be considered dangerous, but are not," she says." For example, some kids really enjoy drawing elaborate pictures of weapons and wars. In some schools, that can be considered a threat and get a student expelled under a zero-tolerance policy."

 

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