Tim Cushing
Tech Dirt
May 14, 2014

POPTARTGUN-300x145It seems to me that if it takes a new law to force school policies to more closely resemble common sense, then there’s definitely a problem with those policies. The question remains as to why this couldn’t be changed at a school administration level. Zero tolerance weapons policies are somewhat mandatory, seeing as they’re tied to school funding. But there’s nothing in that stipulating that situations not involving actual weapons need to be handled in the most asinine fashion possible.

Since the story broke about the suspension of a 7 year-old student for biting his breakfast pastry (a Pop-Tart, for all intents and purposes) into a gun-like shape and making gun-like motions, legislation has been introduced twice to address this incredibly stupid problem.

The first bill was passed in Maryland, the state in which the dangerous Pop Tart gun was first brandished. Florida is now the second state attempting to step up and reaffirm its schoolchildren’s right to carry (and deploy) non-functioning, non-weapons that may or may not resemble actual weapons, depending on your level of paranoiac imagination and/or adherence to zero tolerance policies. Its unofficial name is the “Pop Tart bill” and it aims to ensure that the Anne Arundel, MD school will never live down its brush with deadly pastries.

Here’s the text that specifies exactly what administrators won’t be allowed to portray as policy-violating weapons in the future.

Simulating a firearm or weapon while playing or wearing clothing or accessories that depict a firearm or weapon or express an opinion regarding a right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is not grounds for disciplinary action or referral to the criminal justice or juvenile justice system under this section or s. 1006.13. Simulating a firearm or weapon while playing includes, but is not limited to:

1. Brandishing a partially consumed pastry or other food item to simulate a firearm or weapon.

2. Possessing a toy firearm or weapon that is 2 inches or less in overall length.

3. Possessing a toy firearm or weapon made of plastic snap-together building blocks.

4. Using a finger or hand to simulate a firearm or weapon.

5. Vocalizing an imaginary firearm or weapon.

6. Drawing a picture, or possessing an image, of a firearm or weapon.

7. Using a pencil, pen, or other writing or drawing utensil to simulate a firearm or weapon.

This would seem to cover a majority of incidents covered here and elsewhere. It still gives the schools leeway to make dumb decisions if it feels “learning” has been “disrupted” enough and also allows them to implement school uniform policies if the thought of screenprinted guns wandering the campus is too terrible to contemplate.

As for the kid who originally drew the suspension for his Pop Tart gun, he’s still dealing with the outcome of that school’s suspension decision, as Katherine Mangu-Ward at Reason points out.

But the boy at the center of that controversy is still caught in the zero tolerance web. The Washington Post reports that school officials in that case are saying the suspension was really about general disciplinary problems, despite the fact that the brief citation includes the word gun four times and the parents say administrators made no mention of other concerns at the time of the suspension:

For more than a year, the Anne Arundel boy’s family has been asking school officials to clear the episode from his boy’s records, saying that it unfairly tarnishes his file with a gun-related offense….

At Tuesday’s hearing, school officials said the boy also had nibbled his pastry into a gun shape a day earlier. But his teacher, Jessica Fultz, testified that on that day he was more compliant when admonished. On the day he was suspended, she said, he was not responsive when she told him to stop.

The policies are not only bad, but they’re enforced inconsistently. So, a kid who defiantly chews a Pop Tart into a gun shape is treated as just as much of a problem as someone with an actual weapon in their possession. The school has yet to back down from its decision, proving it’s still trying to portray itself as the real victim.

Oh, and it has a real problem with the media’s inaccurate portrayal of this event.

Laurie Pritchard, Anne Arundel’s director of legal services, said that the object central to the case had been misportrayed, as well as the reason for the discipline.

“First of all, it wasn’t a Pop-Tart,” she said. “It was a breakfast pastry.”

Well, that’s what happens when you blow the budget on legal assistance rather than food. You can’t afford name-brand goods. And shame on all of us for believing that the object cited the most in the suspension report was the actionable cause, rather than the barely-mentioned and overly vague “general disciplinary problems” the writeup couldn’t even be bothered to enumerate.


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