A Pennsylvania mom is publicly criticizing her local school board after their 6-year-old daughter was allegedly reported to the police for “threatening” a teacher.
Maggie Gaines said her daughter Margot, who has Down syndrome, was in her kindergarten class at Valley Forge Elementary last November when she made a gun shape with her finger. Margot then pointed the finger at her teacher and said, “I shoot you,” KYW-TV reports.
The 6-year-old was then taken to the principal’s office, where, according to Gaines, the teacher realized Margot did not intend to threaten anyone. Still, in accordance with the school district’s “threat assessment” policy, administrators called the police.
Gaines told KYW-TV that she supported the school’s handling of the issue until they decided to report it to the authorities. The mom went public with her story in January, openly criticizing the administrators for overreacting.
“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.'”
According to a statement Gaines made last month, she believes her daughter had no idea what her words or actions meant. She said Margot had been asked to do something she didn’t want to do and was simply trying to say “no.”
“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 mommy,'” Gaines’ statement said.
“She really didn’t understand what she was saying,” the mom added in an interview with KYW-TV. “And having Down syndrome is one aspect, but I’m sure all 6-year-olds don’t really know what that means.”
Gaines and her family are now appealing the district’s policies. Their claim states that the elementary school is misinterpreting rules surrounding so-called “transient threats.”
“After [the policy], my husband and I did not see anywhere in the text that required the school to call the police for a transient threat,” Gaines wrote last month.
Pennsylvania state senator Andrew Dinniman has joined the family’s cause, speaking publicly in support of a change in the rules.
“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.”
Meanwhile, the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District said it has heard Gaines’ concerns, adding that it created its current policy with many groups in mind.
“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 wrote in a statement.