- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2000

RISING SUN, Md. Shooting bad guys with a pointed finger and a gleeful "Bang! Bang!" used to be harmless horseplay. But children and guns even pretend guns set off alarms these days.
An 8-year-old Maryland boy found that out after his bus driver turned him in for pointing and "firing" his finger at his Cecil County schoolmates on Sept. 7 and talking about bringing a real gun to his class.
Calvert Elementary officials promptly called the police, who investigated the case interviewing the boy and his mom and contacted juvenile-justice authorities. They are now looking into the possibility of bringing the child before a judge.
Overreaction? Not at all, say school and police officials in this rural community about an hour northeast of Baltimore: In today's educational environment, it's better to be safe than sorry.
"Little kid does something like that today and the police come talk to you," said Maj. Ron Plummer of the Cecil County Sheriff's Office.
"As a parent, I can understand the response. It's better to be cautious," said Monique Wheeler, mother of one of the boy's schoolmates. "Times have changed."
Calvert joins a list of schools across the country where children have been expelled or suspended for bringing water pistols, butter knives and even nail clippers to class.
Earlier this year, four 5-year-old boys were suspended from an elementary school in Sayreville, N.J., for posing their small hands like guns and talking about shooting while playing cops and robbers at recess.
Officials everywhere are afraid violent play could lead to a tragedy like the one in Michigan, where a 6-year-old boy stands accused of taking a gun to Buell Elementary School on Feb. 29 and killing classmate Kayla Rolland.
The fourth-grader at the center of the Calvert case has been on administrators' radar screens for some time. Community members said he got in trouble last year for taking a knife on the school bus.
Classmates have told their parents that the boy, small in stature, is no bully. But he is known to disrupt lessons and may have problems at home.
He is not being identified by authorities.
The topic is a touchy one for school officials. Principal Eileen O'Neill told a reporter last week, by way of a receptionist, that she couldn't break free from her schedule to talk, not even after classes let out.
Shortly after school ended for the day, the principal watched from inside as the reporter spoke to mothers in the parking lot.
Little information is being released about the case, but police and the school system said the boy scared the other children on the bus. The driver witnessed what was deemed a threat and reported it.
The child "made a statement he was going to bring a gun to school and held his hand out like it was a gun," said Maj. Plummer, whose sheriff's department was contacted as part of the school investigation.
Authorities have not revealed whether the child had access to guns at home. He did not have a gun when he made the threat.
Police interviewed the 8-year-old, his mother, the driver and others, and handed the results over to the county's Department of Juvenile Justice.
The department could refer the child for counseling or take his case before a judge, according to the Cecil Whig, a local newspaper.
Parents received a letter from the principal explaining that "a student was talking about guns."
"It is my intent to continue to expedite investigations on such issues by working with the proper authorities and taking appropriate disciplinary action," Mrs. O'Neill said in the letter.
She followed up with phone calls to parents.
"I made 65 to 70 phone calls until 7 o'clock," Mrs. O'Neill told the Cecil Whig. "I got no other work done Monday."
She added: "It is very important for students and parents to understand how serious this is."
Karen Emery, a Cecil County school spokeswoman, said psychologists are on hand to counsel children at the school who might be frightened.
Asked about policy for such happenings, the spokeswoman said each case is handled on an individual basis.
Anthony Wong, a member of the Cecil County school board, said it's "unfortunate we have to put so much energy and resources into it, but we have to."
Officials would not say how the school district would punish the boy or even if he is still attending classes.
"I'd rather him be out of school, personally," said one mother, who did not want to give her name. "This isn't an isolated incident with this child, I believe."
Several parents agreed with erring on the side of caution.
"You can't take anything lightly," said another mom. "I think he's a troubled child."
One mother said her daughter was on that bus the day the threat was made and she wasn't scared.
"All she knew was she wasn't supposed to talk on the bus the next day," said the parent, Lisa Wilson.
One elderly woman in town blamed the whole thing on television and uncaring parents.
"I think a lot of kids get ideas off of this TV," said the woman, who also did not want to be named. "There's an awful lot of violence on TV. Parents are working and they don't know what their kids are watching on TV."
Few residents agreed to identify themselves for this article, afraid of what might be said about them in such a small, rural community. Even the teen-agers were a bit leery.
"We should really ask our parents first before saying anything," said one student of Rising Sun High School, who also did not offer his name.
His sister spoke up, insisting the 8-year-old boy in question was "probably just playing."

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