A 5-year-old Brighton girl has been suspended for a day after bringing a clear plastic bubble gun onto school grounds.
The child is a kindergarten student at Southeast Elementary in Brighton, part of Adams County School District 27J.
The mother, who requested her identity be concealed due to privacy concerns, said she didn’t know her daughter had put the toy into her backpack Monday morning.
Before school started, the kindergarten student took out the bubble gun in the hallway during indoor recess.
Monday night, she said her daughter was so upset, she asked to stay home and help clean house instead of going to school.
"It’s a shame because it’s the end of the school year, and it’s kind of ending on a bad note now," she said. "And she didn’t deserve that. She didn’t deserve a punishment like that."
A spokesman with School District 27J in Brighton denied a request for an interview with the principal and the superintendent, but released a statement defending the action:
“This suspension is consistent with our district policy as well as how Southeast has handled similar situations throughout this school year.”
However, the district policy does not necessarily support suspension in a case like this.
According to the District’s policy for weapons in school, discretionary discipline may be used if a student displays “a firearm facsimile that could reasonably be mistaken for an actual firearm.”
“It’s absurd to send a 5-year-old home for a bubble-maker,” said Nathan Woodliff, the executive director of the ACLU of Colorado. “This is a silly example of a very real problem. Zero-tolerance policies often mean zero common sense.”
After the Columbine shootings, many districts enacted zero-tolerance policies for weapons on school grounds, and there have since been numerous reports of children being suspended or expelled for obviously fake weapons such as pastry guns, Hello Kitty bubble guns, and even their own fingers as guns.
“We are given a brain, and we should use it,” said Tom Mauser, a spokesman for Colorado Ceasefire, whose son died in the Columbine shooting.
Colorado Ceasefire advocates for stricter gun control laws, and Mauser initially supported zero-tolerance policies.
"But the more stories I heard like this the more I became against zero-tolerance policies,” said Mauser, who now thinks schools must find the difficult balance between public safety and common sense.
“It’s perhaps a little easier to say, ‘We’re going to enforce this all across the board the same way and treat them all the same,’” said Mauser. “It’s very difficult for the school districts because you’ll have people complaining, ‘Why did they get this and my child got this?’ But it’s something you have to do to be fair.”
Kevin Denke, a spokesman for School District 27J, wrote in an email that other students at Southeast Elementary have brought items such as Nerf guns to school and also received one-day suspensions.
“The bringing of weapons, real or facsimile, to our schools by students can not only create a potential safety concern but also cause a distraction for our students in the learning process,” Denke wrote. “Our schools, particularly Southeast because of past instances with students bringing fake weapons to school, make a point of asking parents to be partners in making sure students are not bringing these items to school. This includes asking parents to check backpacks.”
Colorado set a national example by passing School Discipline Reform in 2012, making it easier for schools to have discretion in disciplinary action.
Still, Woodliff-Stanley said the bubble gun case in Brighton is a clear example that “out-of-proportion punishment” is still a serious issue.
"It is counterproductive in a lot of different ways,” said Woodliff-Stanley. “When children are disciplined in ways that don’t make sense, they actually lose respect for the school they don’t gain respect.”
The ACLU monitors zero tolerance policies around the country, and considers them part of the “School-to-Prison Pipeline.”
“They’re part of how we end up criminalizing our children rather than having a better school environment,” he said.
The mother of the student who was suspended said she simply wants to raise awareness about what happened because she felt no one with the school district would listen.
"My reason for doing this story is because the principal didn’t seem like she wanted to have a conversation with me this morning about it," said the mother. "It was a very superior attitude. She made it very clear that she didn’t care what I had to say and that it didn’t matter what I said. It was something that she was going to enforce no matter what."