There has always been ridiculous. But now there is Tredyffrin-Easttown School District ridiculous.
That’s because this Pennsylvania educational board currently tops all-comers in the hotly-contested race for the most counter-productive overreaction to a perceived “threat” from an objectively harmless student.
In this case, the victim was Margot, a 6-year-old kindergartner who has Down syndrome.
Last November, according to a local CBS news report, “Margot became frustrated and made a gesture that sparked a disciplinary investigation.” The girl’s mother acknowledged that Margot pointed her finger at a teacher and said, “I shoot you.”
While that’s certainly inappropriate behavior, it’s also hardly beyond the pale of a young child who’s experiencing a moment of aggravation.
Notwithstanding Margot’s young age, developmental challenges, and obvious inability to discharge an actual projectile from her bare finger, school officials convened a “threat assessment.”
That process, Margot’s mother told the CBS reporter, determined that “nobody was in harm’s way” and that Margot “didn’t even really know what she was saying.”
Unfortunately, school officials then turned what could have been a teachable moment in the importance of choosing words and gestures carefully into a master’s class on bureaucratic rigidity and ineptitude.
Tredyffrin-Easttown School District policy calls for police to be contacted when a threat assessment is convened.
So school officials called the cops on 6-year-old Margot.
The police would not comment to the CBS reporter on what measures they took in response to the school’s report.
But Margot’s mother is upset that the little girl is now on file with local authorities as having “threatened” a school teacher.
The school district told the CBS affiliate that it had “agreed to review” its “school safety practices” in response to a parent having expressed concerns. But it defended them, insisting “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.”
Margot’s mother said in another interview that her meeting with the district’s policy committee left her feeling “disheartened,” as she recognized that the process her daughter was subjected to was “intentional” and had in fact “worked as it was intended to.” “That should really frighten people,” she added.
She has also pointed out the harm these one-size-fits-all policies do to children like her daughter, telling the Washington Post that “nationwide data shows students with disabilities are disproportionately likely to be disciplined.”
Margot’s mother emphasized in a public Facebook statement that she does not blame the teacher or principal for what happened and that they “were merely following a policy in a manner in which they were directed to follow it.”
Her motive for going public after meeting with the district’s policy committee, she explained, “is about educating and informing our community about a policy that needs to change in order to protect all our students.” Her recommendations for reform are outlined in a detailed letter she submitted to the committee.
If this were an isolated incident, it could perhaps be chalked up to good intentions gone awry.
But anti-gun hysteria has grown so acute and pervasive in the public education system that no child is safe from potentially life-long consequences for what has historically been understood to be normal, if immature, behavior. These incidents should be kept in mind as policymakers debate the important issue of school safety.
Fortunately, Margot’s parents appear determined to do whatever is necessary to remove any effect the incident may have left on her record and to ensure other vulnerable students in the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District are spared a similar experience.
We wish the family well in righting a wrong that could have been avoided with a modicum of common sense and good judgment. In the meantime, we grade the district’s efforts at a rational approach to safety an F for fail.