School Suspension Policy over Toys?

Updated on September 25, 2016
D.K. asks from Bellevue, WA
23 answers

My 8 year old is getting suspended from his elementary school for playing with a paper gun that his older friend in the same school gave him today. It's really 2 thick papers folded into each other to look like gun! A substitute teacher saw him with it and next thing we know is a call from the principal saying he is suspended from the school for the whole day tomorrow! He is supposed to spend the entire day in the office, with no recess or play time. I am guessing he will have lunch and snack time at least. He also said the teacher stapled/taped that paper thing to a big paper!!! How ridiculous is that? Did she really think that was a real gun, in spite of touching it with her own hands? Have we come to a stage where we will follow any stupid rules blindly without using our brains or better judgement?

My main question is since when did a paper toy become so dangerous? And how can they suspend him on such a thing? Shouldn't they look at what that thing really is, hear him out and let him go with a warning? I am sure most of us played with toy guns or swords and most of us turned out fine! Don't kids learn fencing around the same age? How is a fencing sword better than a paper gun? Heck, even his summer camp had play with nerf guns and water guns scheduled as part of the day!!

Do parents just KNOW that school is different than a summer camp when it comes to toy guns or do they come to know that when their kids get crushed under such circumstances? My kid is a responsible kid and a very bright student. I fear he's going to face some serious bullying because of this event right at the start of the school year! He already had to go through booing and "hissing" from other kids when he went back to his class after the incidence.

If they are so concerned about gun violence, why not start at the root cause? We do not possess any guns, it's in fact us who should be worried about sending our kids to public school, where so many kids might have easy access to their parents' guns! In fact that was one of the reasons I was considering private school, guess I should have followed my gut instincts!

This whole thing has been completely unfair on my kid. How should we handle this? What would you do under such circumstances? I would appreciate kind and helpful responses please! Thanks!

Edit: Chacha, what do you mean by the "type" school? It's not a charter or private school, just the neighborhood public school. Would a one-day suspension over a paper gun affect his college prospects?

Thanks (i might look pathetic to check the answers every now and then, but I am just frustrated and touched by my kid's sorry face throughout the evening :( - he really thought that was unfair too and I am not sure how to explain this ridiculous school policy)

Edit2: Wow! Thanks for the perspective! I remember reading about the policy on guns and drugs in the handbook but didn't realize it would stretch this far! We don't have cable TV so I had no idea about the poptart/bread shaped like gun incidents. If its well-known that schools have this policy, then its unfair that the summer camps (outside the school) still allow nerf guns and water guns! How do we know where to draw the line? Anyways, thanks for all the understanding responses. As for trolls, buzz off!

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So What Happened?

We discussed this matter with the school principal and she made it clear that there's nothing anybody can do. It's a state policy and she has to abide by it. So my kid is sitting in the office with a director of education to go through all the classroom activities, supervised but isolated. The principal asked us to trust them and think of this as a learning lesson for both us and our kid, that they will go over the policies with him again today, and make sure he understands why this is a big deal, what is considered unacceptable and what to do if he sees someone else with a gun or similar such thing. If he just hadn't taken this out of his bag, he wouldn't have to deal with any of this - which again is completely ridiculous. But it is what it is and my kid is going to learn the lesson the hard way. They say "setbacks are good - they provide you with learning opportunity" - I am sure he will never even dare say the "G" word again however it's better to learn this in a safe environment than outside.

Thank you to each one of you for providing me this perspective - i would have approached the principal in a very agitated and unreasonable manner had I not read this. So thanks again. I am sure I will have a healthy and mature discussion with my kid today evening.

Update: What actually happened? My son ended up having a great time in the office. I am glad I trusted his abilities to take care of himself in a reasonably safe environment. He even said since all the ladies in the office had "their noses stuck into their computers", no one really cared what he was doing and he ended up having the entire book shelf to himself - he enjoyed the extra reading time he got. I am glad he not only learned the importance of following rules, but also how to make lemonade out of the lemons that life throws at you! Thanks again everyone on this wonderful forum! Have a great day!

Featured Answers


answers from St. Louis on

Every year the school hands out or makes available a copy of their policies, that is how you know. Or just watch the news. Zero tolerance is just that. Do people read the handbook? not really, I don't, but if my kids violated a rule in there I am not going to get angry at the school for me not reading.

Now you know, move on.

Just want to add a grade school child was suspended for making his fingers in the shape of a gun. If you want to know the direction schools are going read the policy book, watch or read the news.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

I think this is absolutely ridiculous. A teachable moment? Are you kidding me? Teach him what? To be afraid of paper???

Good grief. Scary? Its a paper gun. Would he received the same if it had been a paper knife? We have gotten so out of control with zero tolerance. Common sense is needed.

I would tell him its a policy of the school and while I don't agree with it he has to abide by it. END OF STORY.

6 moms found this helpful

More Answers


answers from Washington DC on


If you're really from Washington State, it's liberal la-la land. Everyone needs a "safe zone". I'm sorry.

What did the principal say when they called you? Did he quote the policy? Did you KNOW about the policy? EVERY year - we are given a 1/4 inch thick book that is called the "Student Right and Responsibilities" handbook - has all the policies in it, we have to sign a piece of paper from IN IT and return it to the school. In our school district, if the form is NOT signed? The children are penalized for it. This book gives EVERY policy - from dress to behavior. Heck you can even watch a 15 minute video on the schools website. If he broke a rule, he broke a rule. Common sense doesn't always apply anymore. The fact is - INTENT could be there. Can the paper gun hurt anyone? No. However, what if he means to bring one to school in the future? No one can know that - intent.

You tell your child that he broke the rules. And this is the consequence for breaking the rules. Is it fair? He broke the rules. If you failed in teaching him those rules? That's on you.

How do you handle it? You apologize to your son for not reading the student handbook with him. You tell him to go to the office and read it himself when he arrives at school. this way he will be informed of all of the schools rules and not break them again.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

You don't tell him that the school policy is ridiculous or that this is unfair. You empathize with his feelings of remorse, hurt and embarrassment. You have a warm conversation with him about why schools are taking anything having to do with guns so seriously. You tell him that you understand he didn't mean to harm anyone. And, it's a lesson to be learned that being unaware of a rule isn't going to get anyone out of the consequences for breaking it. I agree with reading the school handbook together. Tell him that facing the consequences won't be easy or comfortable, but you are confident he will get through it and put this incident behind him.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Evansville on

The teachable moment is in learning that the no guns rule just that. No guns. The other teachable is that mom dad while not agreeing with all school policies, will follow them out of respect for the school policies. Not undermine them by telling child they are stupid rules. What happens outside school irrelevant to this situation.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Yeah it's the world we live in now..everything can be used, deemed, shown as a bad example, etc..

I remember seeing on the news that a boy had a pop tart or toast( I can't remember which) in a shape supposedly of a gun and was suspended.. he was probably your sons age or younger..

Read up on your schools's policy/student handbook..

Unfortunately that happened, do I think it's ridiculous? Yes. I remember telling my son at an early age to not use gun noises or hands / or draw them at school. Not like he did at play, but just in case some of his friends were doing it.. I told him he could get in trouble..when I went to school - I couldn't wear any secular shirts, and my shorts couldn't be any shorter then two inches above my knees.( private Christian school) I'm tall so that was always ridiculous.. and I loved rock n roll music.. so yeah, I had to suck it up so I wouldn't get suspended for wearing my Guns N' Roses tees to school.

It's a learning lesson.. kids will forget once something or someone else acts up or does something similar. Now you know..

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

This is wrong! I hope someone didn't understand the policy about guns. Schools are concerned for everyone's safety. Since all the school shootings it make sense that toy guns that could by thought to be guns, are banned. There is nothing about a paper gun that could be thought as real.

Awhile back, a mom on this sight told us her son made a sort of a clock, took it to school and was in trouble because someone thought it could be a bomb. I don't remember how it ended.

I think that so many people who have had no exposure or experience with guns think that strong enforcement of gun policies in school will protect the school from gun violence. I think that our society is going overboard with issues because they are scared. I suggest that ou r country is out if control in many ways. Making and enforcing rules is a way to feel more in control.

This generation hasn't had experiences that those who lived in a more simple time. On important experience that is lacking is the ability to communicate with others in a personal way. I see many adults who don't talk with each other to work things out. Our population is rapidly expanding. The result is that we.know fewer people. Strangers are scary.

Part of the reason for more rules that can't be discussed in person is that we have been taught to never offend someone. I suggest that we as a society are becoming more controlled by government. Perhaps this is necessary because we have a very large population that does not have similar values. Often we teach kids to not think for themselves. They must follow the black and white rules with few exceptions. I suggest fear is a basis for that.

In the past, parents went to the school with questions. I see moms on this sight who are not sure they should go to the school. I feel a disconnect between parents and school. Just a few parents become partners with their children's school. It feels to me that government, has become an entity separate from most people.

Anyway, I suggest you make an appointment to talk with the principal. Be calm and respectfull when you ask for more information about the reason for suspension.

The principal may not be able to change the suspension. An example of how.the simplest concerns result in rigidity. I usually feel better after a personal conversation. By asking questions we become a part of the process. All too often, people see themselves as powerless and feel they are a victim.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Two words: Sandy Hook.

It's natural to want to protect our wonderful children even if they do something that's wrong or against the rules. But every child has a right to feel safe.

The issue isn't the fact that he made something out of paper. This issue is, it was a gun. If paper guns are allow, what about plastic water pistols? What about plastic guns that look real, the kid that get kids shot by police? What about Grandpa's WWII "souvenir" relic? Dad's loaded handgun because "the safety is on." Where does it end? You are seeing this only from your child's perspective, and not from the perspective of other children who might see some form of a gun and be scared. Or a real gun and be so desensitized that they don't alert someone or stay away from it. You really want children to recoil at the sight of any gun and let an adult know.

So this is a teaching opportunity for you, and of him. First off, "ignorance of the law is no excuse" and this will encourage both of you to learn the rules of any situation rather than assume that anything is okay. How many adults use that argument to say, for example, that they didn't know the speed limit and didn't see a sign? So an 8 year old learning that there are rules is okay, and admirable. If there are on line policies or a handbook and parents didn't take time to read it, that's not the school's fault.

Secondly, you can sympathize with your son's disappointment and still understand the other perspective. I suggest you encourage your child to not just see things from his own point of view. He's only seeing that he was "booed and hissed" (which may or may not be an accurate assessment) and not that other kids knew it was unacceptable behavior. Perhaps the other kids, if they did boo, were dealt with separately. You really don't know. You see only that he might be bullied, and not that his behavior may have been considered bullying or threatening to others. You can't say that one is unreasonable and the other is not. And kids do stuff when there's a sub - they just do. They play pranks, they boo, they even make toy guns out of paper. There's a whole dynamic to it, and if you understood 8 year olds and classroom dynamics, you'd be able to see it.

Third, you have to get past the idea that your son will be damaged for life for this. Of course it's not going on his transcript! Of course colleges don't give a damn about a kid being sent to the principal's office. And the school has no plans to torture your child - they are not going to deprive him of food and water, for heaven's sake. He'll be able to get up and stretch, go to the bathroom, and so on. Where did you get that idea?? Are you passing your anxiety on to your child?? You really have to model calmer behavior for him - he's going to pick up on your anger. I'm sure he will sit at a desk or table with a folder of his regular work from his class, and he will just miss out on the socializing in class, lunch and recess. He's not going to be blackballed forever. In fact, half the kids will think he was out sick or dismissed to go to the doctor. If he is bullied, that behavior can be dealt with

The fact is, your son will learn from this, he will (with your help) understand that every child has a right to feel safe, and that guns in one form can lead to guns in another form. He also needs to understand that rules are rules, he's responsible for learning and following them, and that he can question a regulation by asking about it or writing letters to the principal saying he disagrees, but he cannot just defy them.

Please try to see the learning potential here, that the rules are there to protect your son rather than to make his life miserable. He will, I hope, understand things and never do this again, in which case the one day in the office will have totally served its purpose.

Take a breath, settle down, and tell your son he has to take his medicine. While he's sitting there, he can take a break and think about why guns are scary to others and why they should be scary to him too.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I agree with you that there is no real danger from a paper gun.

Nor is there from a water gun.

But - if there are no guns, then no guns.

My thought is, it's in the policy book (zero tolerance) but do they cover this with the kids at school? Because my son came home with these mangled plastic knives once, from the school cafeteria. I asked him what did he do to them? he said a friend of his made them into guns. So I was relieved in that case that no one picked up on it (I'm sure we would have been called) and I discussed it with my kid.

It's all a bit over the top but it's because there's so much room for misinterpretation - and so it's all just a bit extreme. Mind you, I'd rather that then the other extreme.

My son once brought home a tiny jackknife. He won it on the playground playing a game - from a bigger boy. That was stressful - I thought great, now is someone going to tattle on my kid that he had a knife at school? So I just contacted his teacher and talked about it. She was very understanding.

My suggestion would be to call the school and see if your son can't just spend the day at home. I don't think our kids sit in the office all day at school. I could be wrong - but that seems a bit extreme.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

i fully support schools taking a no violence tack.
i also think this degree of hysteria is ridiculous and demonstrates an utter lack of understanding about children in general.
but you're not going to win this.
and if you turn it into a Big Thing you're going to make into a heavy burden for your already frustrated kid.
i'm with you all the way, but rein it in for your kid's sake (unless you're planning on pulling him and homeschooling, in which case i'm also fully supportive as that's what we did, although for different reasons.)
roll your eyes, tell him, 'sorry, kiddo, it's fairly ridiculous but because kids HAVE brought real guns to schools and done awful things, the schools are reacting because they must, although this is a silly extreme. suck it up for this one day out of your life, and remember going forward that the school is going to over-react to play guns and don't go near them when you're there. we'll bake cupcakes when you get home.'

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Hard-and-fast rules like this can have frustrating consequences. Much like teen girls getting suspended for carrying advil for cramps during their period because it violates the school drug policy.

But, it's easier to make clear rules with no exceptions, because to do otherwise can seem subjective which opens room for lawsuits.

So, you tell him you understand he wouldn't hurt anyone and that you are not upset with him, but that this is the rule, and and he has to accept the consequences.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

First of all, rules are rules and sometimes someone is used as the "example" that rules will be enforced. In today's society, they do not tolerate ANY type of violence.... even toy play paper guns. It is the zero tolerance rule.

I know you feel it is unfair, yes it sounds extreme but it is the way of life we have today. School is different from camps which use nerf guns and water toys.

It is NOT the substitute's fault. I was a sub for 15 years and subs are exposed to students doing things that they would never do when the regular teacher was in the classroom. Each sub has a tolerance level and some are much more strict than others. It does not make the sub right or wrong in this situation. Subs have strict rules to follow per the district. It was NOT bullying when he came back into then room. It was typical of 8 year old students. I bet there will be no more paper guns around. I am sure the regular teacher will address the entire issue with all of the students when she/he returns to the classroom.

Of course this will NOT be a negative mark toward his college prospects. He is 8 years old. If he was suspended in high school, then that would be on the transcript and still, I don't think an admissions counselor would nix an applicant for something like this.

Use this as a learning lesson on many levels. Yes, if feels unfair and yes it seems ridiculous but it is school policy.

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answers from San Francisco on

I think you should be addressing your questions to the school, as we don't know their policies and procedures. We also don't know specifically what your son was doing, maybe he was also being aggressive or behaving in some other inappropriate way (?) we weren't there (neither were you) so you need to discuss it with the teacher and/or principal.

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answers from Boston on

In school suspension is fine for this. I totally get where you are coming from but unfortunately the world is different now and your son will now know that he can't do this at school.

I would call the school about the other children being allowed to harass your son when he returned to the classroom. Where was the substitute when he was booed and hissed? Of course he may have made that part up so I'd let him know that you will be following up on that so if it isn't the truth he needs to let you know now.

As far as how to explain it to him? You tell him that different places have different rules. Things he's allowed to do at home might be off limits at Grandma's house or church. Things he can do at a playground won't fly at a museum. Tell him that he now knows that things that are considered weapons like guns and knives out of any material aren't allowed at school unless the school provides it for you. You don't say the school is stupid for having the rule. You don't say the sub was stupid for making a big deal out of it. You simply explain that rules differ from place to place.

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answers from San Francisco on

Shall we count how many people have been killed because they possessed fake guns? It's not about the fact that it was made of paper - this is GOOD lesson for your son. Even fake guns are not allowed. Suppose he got away with this, and then brought or somehow possessed another fake gun in the future that looked real and was shot and killed because of that. It's best to teach him that NO FORM of gun is acceptable at school, real or not! BTW, parents of kids who go to private school also own guns. Parents pay a hefty price to send their kids to prestigious colleges and look at how many of those have had shootings. You can't escape this issue with economic or geography! Even if you don't have cable TV, you should find a way to stay in touch with what's going on. Now you can appreciate how important it is to stay in tune with the world!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Are students aware of the zero tolerance policy? I feel this was TOTALLY blown out of proportion--given his age.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

I believe the issue is the "gun" and not the folding of a piece of paper and playing with it.

Check the school policy on guns/toys that resemble guns/play guns and such.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

"Sweetie, you can't play with ANY kinds of guns in school, not even paper guns. It's the rule."

And I agree that you should see if he can spend the day at home, vs. in the office.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Oh wow. Well I do not know exactly what your son's school environment is like, but I would certainly encourage you to reach out to a lawyer, especially if it is the "type" of school where a suspension even at age 8 could effect him in the future (like some private schools). Lawyers for children and civil liberties groups, often deal with suspension cases.

On the other hand, if you are just generally venting about the craziness of it - yes, a school getting so worked up about a piece of paper that a child cut into the shape of a gun, seems nuts.

ETA: To answer your "Edit" - I was particularly referring to the idea that in some private schools there could be further repercussions for other suspensions, including being asked to leave the school entirely. No need to leap to a discussion of college, but please don't underestimate the seriousness of a suspension in any school (which is why I suggested talking to a lawyer).

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Canton on

We had a similar situation a few years back. But it wasn't a paper gun, it was sugar mixed with Kool-Aid in a baggy (my son thought he was making homemade pixie sticks but the school labeled it a counterfeit controlled!). I believe he was also 8 at that time and had no clue what he was doing (nor did I) would make such an impact. I got a really cranky call from the principal - he made me feel like I was in trouble and couldn't believe that I was actually allowing my son and his friends to make this at my house. We lived across the street from the school at the time and he made it clear that he would be watching my house. Anyway, long story short, I don't understand why they must make such a big deal out of something that is so minor.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

Where in the world has common sense gone? This is ridiculous but I have sadly heard of other stories like this.

I would have a really hard time allowing my 8 yo child to sit in the office all day for an in-school suspension. I just don't think I would allow it. Not sure what the alternative is though. Did you sit down with the principal to discuss this?

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

We are very pro-gun in our home. Our children know gun safety and will soon be learning how to use them. The safes are locked by fingerprint that only my husband and I have. When we purchased the guns, it's because the police told us it would be wise to have them for our protection. Someone who is crazy was trying to hurt my sister, and to do that, the police were certain he would come after her family...lovely.

It's YOUR responsibility to know the rules. The news has been loud about anti-gun nonsense for the last few years. I'm sure you have told your son that school is not a place for any type of gun play??

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

As a teacher, I would have just taken it, tore it up and tossed it in the trash can in front of the class the same as I do with paper airplanes and notes written to each other. They get it.

1 mom found this helpful
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