Officials at a Pennsylvania elementary school called the police on a six-year-old girl with Down syndrome after she pretended to shoot her teacher with her fingers.
The girl’s mother, Maggie Gaines, has accused Valley Forge Elementary School of mishandling the incident last November that resulted in her daughter Margot having a police report on her record.
‘My daughter got frustrated and pointed her finger at her teacher and said: “I shoot you,” Gaines told CBS3 this week.
‘At that point, they went to the principal’s office and it was quickly assessed that she didn’t even really know what she was saying.’
Gaines said the school contacted her and told her what happened, saying they were required by district policy to report the incident to police – even though it was deemed a transient threat.
‘I was fine with everything up until calling the police,’ Gaines said. ‘And I said: “You absolutely do not have to call the police. You know, this is ridiculous.”‘
Margot’s family is now appealing to have the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District remove the policy.
Gaines says contacting police was a severe overreaction as it was clear Margot didn’t know what ‘I shoot you’ meant and was merely trying to convey her frustration.
‘She really didn’t understand what she was saying, and having Down syndrome is one aspect, but I’m sure all six-year-olds don’t really know what that means,’ the mother said.
‘Now, there is a record at the police that says she made a threat to her teacher.’
Gaines said authorities have assured her that the record is confidential, but she still fears potential ramifications for her daughter in the future.
The mother raised the issue publicly in a letter to the school board last month, saying that school officials are misinterpreting policy and state law.
Pennsylvania state Sen Andrew Dinniman, who was contacted by the Gaines family, also expressed concern with how the district handled the issue.
‘As a state senator, an educator, and a parent, I am concerned when I hear that such important decisions appear to be guided blindly by written policy or legal interpretation without those in positions of authority using their judgment, experience, and commonsense to weigh in,’ Dinniman said in a statement.
‘Furthermore, I am alarmed that a school seems to be acting as an extension of the police department in promulgating data and records on children as young as kindergarteners.’
The Tredyffrin-Easttown School District said it would review school safety practices at a committee meeting, but did not indicate whether they intended to amend the policy.
‘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 district said in a statement.