Mention of 'bubble gun' gets child, 5, suspended
MOUNT CARMEL - A 5-year-old kindergarten student at Mount Carmel Area Elementary School was suspended last week for allegedly telling classmates she was going to shoot them and herself with her pink Hello Kitty Bubbles Gun.
She was reportedly questioned for three hours before her mother was contacted, said Robin Ficker, 69, an attorney from Bethesda, Md., who is representing the family.
"This is an innocent child who was made to cry while being questioned for three hours about something she said that she doesn't even understand," he said.
Ficker said the girl, who did not have the toy in her possession at school, was initially suspended for 10 days by Mount Carmel Area Elementary School Principal Susan Nestico in what the school classified as a "terroristic threat." The suspension was later reduced to two days and labeled a "threat to harm others."
Mount Carmel Area Superintendent Bernie Stellar said Friday he couldn't comment on the incident or suspension because he's not allowed to discuss student discipline issues.
The alleged incident occurred Thursday, Jan. 10, and the student returned to school Monday, Jan. 14, Ficker said.
He said her parents do not want to discuss the incident with the media. He confirmed the girl who was suspended resides in the Mount Carmel area.
Police were not involved in the incident, according to Mount Carmel Township Police Chief Brian Hollenbush.
During a telephone interview with The News-Item Friday, Ficker said the 5-year-old girl was playing with two friends while waiting in line for the bus while still inside her classroom and spoke about her Hello Kitty gun, which shoots bubbles.
Ficker said the kindergartner mentioned she was going to shoot one of her friends and then herself with the bubble gun so that they could all be together. Then, she was going to shoot herself again when she got home.
Ficker said someone at the school became aware of the conversation and reported it to administrators. The next day, the attorney claims, officials at the elementary school questioned her for three hours before suspending her. Ficker claimed the girl's mother wasn't contacted about the incident until after the girl was questioned.
"This is a good-natured little girl. And this shows how hysterical people who work at schools have become since Sandy Hook," he said, referencing the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Ficker did not minimize the dangers schools must deal with, but believes those at Mount Carmel Area overreacted.
"The incident goes on her permanent record. She has been branded a troubled person," he said. "But she was suspended for her words. She had no gun. She had a bubble-making machine."
Ficker said the girl's mother told him her daughter has been very upset since the incident.
Before being allowed to return to school, the girl had to undergo psychological testing from an independent practitioner, Ficker said.
"The psychologist said that she posed no danger to others," Ficker said. "I think it's pathetic when little kids can't play or get in this kind of trouble for using the wrong words."
Ficker is fighting to have the incident expunged from the girl's records and did not rule out suing the school district.
He said he plans to meet with school district solicitor Edward Greco by the end of next week to discuss the suspension.
"I think district officials need to look in the mirror here and think about their suspension policy," Ficker said. "This child was suspended for a frivolous reason. She should never have been out of school. This is ridiculous."
He added, "A straw shows which way the wind blows. Based on this case, I have to wonder how many other kids at Mount Carmel Area are being suspended from learning for frivolous reasons.
"The best interest of the child needs to be considered foremost. She doesn't even know how to shoot a gun," he continued. "The kids were just playing and using speech they pick up here and there. This is totally overblown."
Ficker said it was important for young children to be able to let their frustrations out during recess before returning to the classroom with more incentive to learn.
"I call this the Mount Carmel inquisition instead of the Spanish inquisition. They are questioning little kids for the worst possible motives," he said. "This child was kicked out of an educational environment for a couple days. This wasn't an innocent suspension. It will stick with the girl for a long time, and it also will have a lasting impact on her friends.
"I hope school officials realize they made a bad mistake in suspending the girl," he concluded.