A 7-year-old American boy was suspended for two days for chewing his breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun and saying, "bang, bang"an offense that the school described as a threat to other students, according to his family.
The pastry "gun" was a rectangular strawberry-filled bar, akin to a Pop-Tart, that the second-grader had tried to nibble into the shape of a mountain on Friday morning, but then found it looked more like a gun, said his father, William "B.J." Welch.
Welch said an assistant principal at Park Elementary School in Baltimore told him that his son pointed the pastry at a classmate - though the child maintains he pointed it at the ceiling.
"In my eyes, it's irrelevant; I don't care who he pointed it at," Welch said. "It was harmless. It was a danish."
The boy's suspension comes amid heightened sensitivity about security and guns_ even pretend guns - in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conneticut, which left 20 children and six staff members dead.
In the 11 weeks since the massacre, at least two young children in the Washington, D.C. region have been suspended for pointing their fingers like guns, and a 10-year-old in Alexandria, was arrested by police for showing a toy gun to others on his school bus. In Pennsylvania, a 5-year-old was suspended for talking to classmates about shooting her Hello Kitty gun that blows bubbles.
Anne Arundel officials declined comment because of confidentiality laws, said schools spokesman Bob Mosier, who added that a letter about the incident was sent home to families Friday and is posted on the school's web site.
In the letter, Myrna Phillips, the assistant principal, informed parents that a student "used food to make inappropriate gestures that disrupted the class" but said no "physical threats" were made and no one was harmed.
If children remain troubled by the incident, Phillips wrote, parents should "help them share their feelings." A counselor would also be available to students, the letter said. "In general, please remind them of the importance of making good choices," she wrote.
For the Welch family, the episode started Friday morning, when the 7-year-old was given the pastry as part of a schoolwide breakfast program. By about 9:20 am, the boy was being suspended and his father was called in.
Welch said he asked the assistant principal if anyone had been scared by the pastry. Someone could have been, he said he was told.
The father said he had high regard for the school, so the episode was puzzling.
"I feel this is just a direct result of society feeling that guns are evil and guns are bad . . . and if you make your pastry into a gun, you're going to be the next Columbine shooter," Welch said.
Welch has followed news accounts of other suspensions in recent weeks and contends educators are going overboard, which he said led him to go public.
"Kids are losing time in school for nothing more than playing," he said, pointing out that there is a danger of long-term effects when gun-involved incidents are written into students' permanent records.
He wondered: What if his son gets turned down for a security clearance when he's in his 20s because of a pretend gun offense at age 7? "That may sound far-fetched but, you know what, in today's world, it's possible," he said.
Welch said his 7-year-old has three brothers, and all are "typical" boys. The children have Nerf guns at home, and their grandfather is an avid hunter. Welch is a strong supporter of gun rights.
On Monday, Welch asked the school principal to strike references to guns from his son's records. The principal looked into the idea, and said it could not be done, he said.
Welch said school leaders also told him Monday - as the case made national news - that the suspension was related to ongoing behavior, not guns, an idea he said is at odds with what he was told Friday and the letter sent to school families.
"Honestly, I think he was just kind of doing what kids do," Welch said of his son. "To him, it was just a game, and to the school it was more than that."