School That Called Police on Disabled Kindergartner Must Reform Protocols

Target: Michele Burger, President of the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District

Goal: Update your threat assessment policy to be inclusive of students with disabilities.

An elementary school in Pennsylvania recently called the police on a 6-year-old kindergartner with Down’s syndrome who made a finger-gun hand gesture at her teacher. Officials on the scene concluded there was no threat posed, but the trauma that this ordeal will leave on the child is unmeasurable.

Maggie Gaines, the mother of the student, says that her daughter, Margot, was questioned by administrators for making the gun gesture and pretending to shoot. Gaines went on to say that this was a harmless expression of anger. The school, on the other hand, believed that there was a threat involved and conducted a full assessment of the incident. Administrators concluded there was a “transient threat” and called the local police.

Gaines said of her daughter, “It was very clear from the beginning that she didn’t understand what she was saying. Her having Down’s syndrome is one aspect of it, but I’m sure most 6-year-olds don’t understand what that means.”

A police report of the incident that mentions Margot by name was filed although no criminal or juvenile records for Margot were created.

Sign this petition to urge the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District to update their threat assessment policy to be inclusive of students with disabilities and young students who are still learning.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear School Board President Burger,

The local police were called in response to a harmless gesture made by a 6-year-old student with Down’s syndrome. Although the hand gesture was a gun, students of this age and especially students with disabilities that affect their learning trajectory do not understand the full meaning of their expressions of anger, frustration, or sadness.

The mother of the student wrote to your school board, “I am well aware that we live in a time when parents are concerned for their children’s safety in school. But I also think our society and our schools across the country have overreacted with respect to perceived threats, resulting in even finger guns wielded by kindergartners being viewed as cause to alert authorities.”

Your current threat assessment policy does not define exactly what constitutes a threatening behavior except to say that it “appears to be a threat to students or others.” This subjective nature of the policy has left students like Margot victim to the trauma of being investigated and involved with the police. I urge you to update your threat assessment policies to be more explicit as well as inclusive of students with disabilities.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Kristin Olsen




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