Jimmy’s Colorado Politics Column | When did parents become the enemy?

Written by on September 8, 2020

When I was a kid, one of my favorite games to play with friends was “War.”  Akin in some ways to cops and robbers, we would run around the neighborhood with toy guns and — gasp! — pretend to fire at each other.  We were far from the first kids to play with toy guns.

None of these games led to real-world violence.  They didn’t cause pain or emotional strain.  And no one ever felt threatened.  Everyone knew it was in good fun.

Fast forward two decades to the year 2020.  Our communities — including right here in Colorado — have sadly endured too many school shootings.  This has rightly focused attention on the need for greater school safety and precautions, but it has also brought about some stunning responses from educators and school administrators. 

This year, COVID-19 has forced many classrooms online at least part-time.  As a result, parents and teachers are being introduced to each other’s territory in different ways.  Parents are able to observe a teacher in action and teachers can get a glimpse inside a student’s home.  So, what happens if a teacher sees an item in the home that makes them feel uncomfortable?  Late last month, we got one disturbing answer.

Twelve-year-old seventh-grader Isaiah Elliott, of Grand Mountain K-8 in Colorado Springs, was suspended from school for five days and visited at home by police.  His crime?  While doing his online art class on Aug. 27, Isaiah moved his “Zombie Hunter” nerf gun from one side of where he was seated to the other.

If you look at the image, as shown in a KDVR report, you can clearly tell that it is a toy gun.  It is green with an orange tip on it with the words “Zombie Hunter” plastered on the side, features no real firearm would have.  The fact that a teacher would immediately draw the conclusion, based on a split-second view of a colored toy gun, that it was a dangerous weapon is bad enough.

What is even worse is that the school’s principle suspended Isaiah and asked the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office to conduct a welfare check — all without giving a heads-up to the parents.  As the boy’s mother, Dani Elliott, told KDVR, “If her main concern was his safety, a two-minute phone call to me or my husband could easily have alleviated this whole situation to where I told them it was fake.”

When did parents become the enemy? Presuming the teacher truly could not clearly tell this was a toy gun, why not call the parents? Why resort immediately to suspensions, cops and welfare checks?  The answer, sadly, is that the government education establishment now automatically assumes that parents cannot be trusted. Police are often the first resort, not the last.

Moreover, according to KDVR, the deputies informed the child, who is proud of his expansive nerf gun collection and has both learning disabilities and ADHD, that “his behavior could’ve led to criminal charges and might in the future if he were to do something similar again.”

Seriously? Are we at a point in society where a 12-year-old boy cannot have one of his harmless toy guns nearby — in his own home — without being suspended, visited by police and emotionally scarred by deputies telling him it could lead to “criminal” offenses?

Americans are still adapting to the “rules of the game” for education at home, but none of the actions taken by this teacher, this principal or the deputies are at all within the bounds of acceptability.

It is true that educators regularly identify issues at home, such as abuse, as well as mental health, eyesight issues, learning disabilities and more.  Generally speaking, teachers should be commended for advocating on behalf of their students’ well-being, and if there is legitimate reason to request a welfare check or to suspend a child, so be it.  A 12-year-old boy possessing what generations of boys have owned — a toy gun — is not one of them.  At most, Isaiah’s teacher should have phoned his parents and expressed concern.  There was no reason to take such drastic steps.

Every Coloradan can understand the sensitivity around guns and schools, and it is reasonable for teachers and parents to have conversations with parents about firearms — including toy guns — at home.  But let’s not rob children of their childhood fun because of an overreaction.

Click here to read Jimmy’s September 8 column at Colorado Politics, a sister publication of The Washington Examiner.

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