- A 6-year-old with Down Syndrome pointed her fingers like a gun at her teacher, prompting officials to call the police, her mother said.
- Maggie Gaines said in a statement to the school board that the call was unnecessary, as her daughter clearly did not understand the gesture and was not a threat.
- The school district said in a statement it had agreed to review its policy requiring school officials to call police in such situations.
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A Pennsylvania family is pleading with their school board to reconsider its policy on “threat assessments” for students, after their 6-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome was reported to police for pointing her finger like a gun.
Margot Gaines, a kindergartener at the Valley Forge Elementary School in Tredyffrin, Pennsylvania, made the gesture in November and told her teacher, “I shoot you,” according to her mother, Maggie.
Maggie said her daughter made the comment when her teacher asked her to do something she didn’t want to do, but had no idea what the words or the gesture meant.
“I imagine the utterance was not unlike the instances when I’ve told her it’s time for bed and she says, ‘I hate bed. I hate mummy,'” Maggie said in a statement last month to the school district.
Maggie said the teacher perceived the response as a “threat” and brought Margot to the principal, who realised that Margot was no danger to the teacher or her classmates.
But instead of dropping the incident, the principal followed a school district policy requiring a “threat assessment” team to be convened and decide whether disciplinary action was warranted.
Maggie said in her statement she was fine with that process, which concluded that Margot didn’t intend to harm anyone. But then the school called the police.
“I think most people would agree that this is where the issue should have ended. And yet it did not,” she said.
Maggie said school officials called the police department and provided authorities with the Gaines’ personal information, as well as information on the incident. Maggie said in her statement that an officer told her the information would be entered into the department’s database and would be publicly available.
“Because the school staff and administration chose to blindly follow this policy, an incident that resulted in no disciplinary action … is part of her permanent school record,” she said. “What’s more, her personal information has also been recorded at our local police department, where it is noted, without any context to the situation or her disability that she ‘threatened’ her teacher. How or if this information will be used against her in the future, I can’t say for certain.”
The Tredyffrin Police Department told the website SAVVY Main Line that an incident report was filed containing Margot’s name, address, age, and disability, but that it is “not releasable” and not a criminal record.
The Tredyffrin-Easttown School District told CBS Philly in a statement it would review its policy in the wake of the Gaines’ complaint.
“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,” the statement said.
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