- The Washington Times - Monday, May 27, 2002

CENTENNIAL, Colo. Children still aren't allowed to point their fingers like guns at Dry Creek Elementary School, but the principal can no longer quiz them about their family's firearms.
In a partial victory for the seven boys punished for wielding finger-guns on the playground, the Cherry Creek school district in the suburbs of Denver last week reversed its stance, stating that any questions about a family's gun ownership should be directed to the parents, not the children.
Dry Creek Principal Darci Mickle had asked the seven boys if their families owned guns after catching the boys playing army-and-aliens on the playground in March, prompting an outcry from some parents.
"Criticism was directed at Mrs. Mickle for asking the students if there were guns in the home," said Cherry Creek Superintendent Monte Moses in a May 16 letter to Dry Creek parents. "We agree that in the future questions of this kind, when based on a legitimate safety concern, should be directed to the parents, respecting family privacy."
But Mr. Moses said nothing about softening the school district's zero-tolerance policy, which was cited by the principal when she disciplined the boys. The seven fourth-graders were using their fingers to shoot each other in a game of army-and-aliens March 22 when they were pulled off the playground and taken to the principal's office.
The principal asked the boys about their families' gun ownership and then called their parents to tell them to pick them up immediately.
Parents later complained that the punishment was too severe for what they viewed as normal horseplay.
The district, which defended the principal's actions as "well within the boundaries of district policy and common sense," became a target for criticism after a report on the incident appeared earlier this month in The Washington Times.
The Denver Post awarded the school district its "Doofus of the Month" prize, while the Rocky Mountain News said that "it is simply none of a principal's business whether a family owns guns. And nothing we've heard about the game of army-and-aliens at Dry Creek school suggests it could pose any risk at all to anyone."
In his letter Mr. Moses stressed the need for "a learning environment that is physically and psychologically safe for every child." But he also adopted a more conciliatory tone by noting that Mrs. Mickle was a first-year principal who had "good intentions in trying to handle a situation in which children were pretending to shoot one another."
"Perhaps the consequence could have been a simple correction, but I support Mrs. Mickle in directing the students to stop pretending to shoot one another, particularly in view of the fact that all students had been instructed to refrain from this behavior at school," said Mr. Moses.
His response left some Dry Creek parents disappointed, saying they had wanted the superintendent to call for a review of the district's zero-tolerance policy.
"I think zero tolerance has its place, but the operative word is 'tolerance,'" said Charles Andrew, whose son Connor was one of the seven boys. "As shown in this case, we need to be much more tolerant of the individual student. Being 'psychologically safe' is fine, but how far do you carry that? Because the damage can be done on both ends here."
Dave Kopel, research director at the Independence Institute in Golden, Colo., praised the superintendent for backing off of the guns-at-home inquiry, although he said he would have also liked to see the district distance itself from zero tolerance.
"I think that's a wise step forward and a mature step by the school district to not keep defending its mistakes," said Mr. Kopel. "On the other hand, it's pretty clear they're still going to keep persecuting kids for finger guns. They were doing several things wrong, and now they've corrected one, which is good progress."
The district's conduct code prohibits "violent and aggressive behavior," but parents said they were never told that finger-guns were forbidden. The principal later directed teachers to explain the finger-gun ban to students.
Parents had also complained that their sons were shaken and humiliated by the episode. Mr. Andrew said that nearly two months later, Connor continues to dread school.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide