The father of an 11-year-old in Owings, Maryland, is claiming that his son was suspended for 10 days from Northern Middle School for simply talking about guns on a school bus.
The mere discussion, according to Bruce Henkelman, led the bus driver to send his sixth grader back to the school to be questioned by the principal.
The child’s conversation apparently centered around the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting — a touch-point of controversy in the nation’s ever-contentious gun control debate.
Henkelman charges that his son did not speak of guns in a negative or bullying manner, as WMAL reports, and that the boy merely said that he wished he had a firearm so that he could protect himself against bad guys.
“He said, I wish I had a gun to protect everyone. He wanted to defeat the bad guys,” the father told WMAL. “That’s the context of what he said. He wanted to be the hero.”
While that’s the family’s story, it’s unclear exactly what unfolded. If the boy’s words were so favorable, one wonders why the bus driver and the principal would choose to punish him — although, stranger things have certainly happened. But so far, according to WMAL, school officials have been relatively tight-lipped about their side of the story.
The principal and a sheriff’s deputy, according to the dad’s account of events, questioned the middle school student following the bus debacle — and Henkelman claims that it didn’t end there.
“He started asking me questions about if I have firearms, and [the deputy said] he’s going to have to search my house. Search my house?,” the frustrated father told the outlet. “I just wanted to know what happened.”
In the end, a search was not performed and the situation eventually simmered.
The incident unfolded in December, but Henkelman is just coming forward now. And it seems he has some backers who believe that the middle school mishandled the situation.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) maintains that the boy was mistreated by the school. While the district claims that the student broke a code (exact details have not been shared), the ACLU holds that the suspension, based on the information that was reported by WMAL, was not the best course of action.
The 11-year-old was initially given 10 days out of school — a punishment that was later reduced to one day.
“It’s appropriate for school officials to investigate when there is a concern about student safety,” said ACLU staff attorney Sonya Kumar. “But based on what’s been described to us, once the school official concluded that all the young man wanted to do was to be safe at school and that he posed no risk to anyone, the suspension was really inappropriate.”
Rather than punishing the child, Kumar said the school should have been assuring him that he would be safe.