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6-year-old with Down syndrome makes finger-gun gesture at school teacher — so the school calls the police


Talk about an overreaction

Image source: KYW-TV video screenshot

A Pennsylvania school called the police on one of its 6-year-old students after she reportedly pretended to shoot a teacher with her finger, according to KYW-TV.

What are the details?

The child's mother, Maggie Gaines, says that Valley Forge Elementary School "mishandled" the incident in which her daughter — who has Down syndrome — reportedly used her finger to "shoot" her teacher.

The incident took place in November when a 6-year-old girl became frustrated with a teacher. She reportedly made a "gun" out of her pointer finger and thumb, and said, "I shoot you" to the unnamed teacher in question.

"I was fine with everything up until calling the police," Gaines said. "And I said, 'You absolutely do not have to call the police. You know, this is ridiculous.'"

She added, "My daughter got frustrated and pointed her finger at her teacher and said, 'I shoot you.' At that point, they went to the principal's office and it was quickly assessed that she didn't even really know what she was saying."

Gaines added that her daughter had no idea what she'd actually done.

"[School officials] were asking her questions, and she was saying, 'Oh, I shoot mommy,' or 'I shoot my brother.' The principal asked, 'Did you mean to hurt your teacher?' and she said 'No,' and it seemed like she didn't even know what that meant."

Gaines insists that her daughter — whose name is now in an official report on the incident — should not be at the center of controversy since she wasn't even aware of what she was saying and that the school had no reason to call police.

"She really didn't understand what she was saying, and having Down syndrome is one aspect," she reasoned, "but I'm sure all 6-year-olds don't really know what that means. Now, there is a record at the police department that says she made a threat to her teacher."

The incident sparked a disciplinary investigation — which the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District refers to as a "threat assessment." However, after the school's "investigation," it was determined that the girl never put anyone in harm's way.

What else?

Pennsylvania state Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D) also said that the district mishandled the incident.

“As a state senator, an educator, and a parent, I am concerned when I hear that such important decisions appear to be guided blindly by written policy or legal interpretation without those in positions of authority using their judgment, experience, and common sense to weigh in," Dinniman said. "Furthermore, I am alarmed that a school seems to be acting as an extension of the police department in promulgating data and records on children as young as kindergarteners."

In a statement, the district said that it would review its current policies and procedures in order to better serve parents.

"When an individual parent concern related to our school safety practices was brought to the attention of the District two weeks ago, we agreed to review those practices in the School Board Policy Committee meeting tonight," a portion of the statement said. "When developing the current practice, the District worked collaboratively with parents, law enforcement and private safety/mental health agencies and legal consultants to ensure our safety measures reflected considerable input from both our local community and experts in the field of school safety."

According to the Daily Local News, Tredyffrin Police Department Officer Joseph Glatts said that it isn't uncommon to file a report for such an incident.

"Officers are called to take a report regardless of age. It's just for reporting purposes," he said. "Juvenile records are not obtainable to anybody. Nobody can get it."

The school added, "When district staff become aware of a potential student threat, policy and Regulation 5401 are followed. Policy and regulation … specifies that threat assessment teams consult with police."

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