The mother of a 5-year-old Massachusetts boy who was threatened with suspension from his school's after-care program after he made a gun out of Lego pieces and pointed it at other students says she believes the school mishandled the situation, but the district said the boy was disruptive and disrespectful, and it's standing by its action.
Sheila Cruz, 33, of Hyannis, Mass., said this week that she was "dumbfounded" when she got a letter from Hyannis West Elementary School last. Dated Jan. 25, 2013, the letter, sent by the school's day care program, said Cruz's son, Joseph, had gotten his first written warning the day before for "using daycare toys inappropriately."
"Please be reminded that a second written warning will result in two weeks out of day care," the letter added.
Joseph's offense? While in the school's after-care program, he used Lego pieces to make a toy handgun. Joseph used the object to "taunt other students with it while simulating the sound of gunfire," according to a statement from the Barnstable Public School district.
Cruz couldn't quite believe it. At first, she said, she was scared that her son could face suspension from the day care. Joseph is also a student in the school's kindergarten class.
"And then I took a little time to think about it and I was just like, this is really ridiculous. He's 5years old, and this is what 5-year-olds do. They play with Legos. They do finger guns," Cruz, 33, said.
Joseph had apparently made a gun-type gesture with his fingers toward another student a few weeks ago during regular kindergarten class. Cruz said a teacher mentioned that incident to her and she had talked with her son about it.
William Butler, the school district's attorney, said teachers had spoken to the boy several times before for what Butler described as "consistently disrespectful" behavior.
George MacKoul, Cruz's attorney, questioned that claim, saying those instances were never documented by the school. He also said the school did not identify any students who might have been threatened by Joseph's actions with the Lego figure. He questioned why, if Joseph's behavior had been such a concern, his parents had not been formally notified earlier.
In its statement, the district said that in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., to "dismiss or overlook an incident that results in any member of our school community feeling unsafe or threatened would be irresponsible and negligent."
Cruz and her attorney said they understood security concerns, given the December shooting massacre in Newtown, but said they believe Hyannis West Elementary School mishandled this situation.
"They way they handled it was just not right it," MacKoul said. "It just wasn't right. I think it created a lot more problems than it solved."
Mary A. Czajkowski, the district's superintendent, said this issue was about more than just a toy gun.
"I don't think this was about a Lego gun or the building of a Lego gun. It was to me the action and the behavior after the child was asked to stop pointing that," she said.
Joseph's alleged failure to stop making the shooting sounds was disrespectful and disruptive, Czajkowski said.
Cruz doesn't believe her son would have disobeyed a teacher's orders.
"I really don't buy that," she said. "My son is, like, I know him inside and out. He's a great kid. He's got a big heart. He loves to help. He listens very well."
Joseph continues to attend kindergarten classes at the school, but Cruz opted to keep him out of the day-care program this week. She's still deciding whether he'll return to the program next week, and says it depends on whether she and the school can discuss the situation, including what could result if this happens again.
According to the school's official policy for the day care, failure to display safe and responsible behavior at all times results in a written warning for the first offense. A second offense requires a two-week suspension from the day care, and a third warrants a one-year suspension.
Asked whether Joseph understood all the hubbub, Cruz replied, "He does a little bit. He goes to school now and he's like, 'Everybody knows my name, mom.'"