An 8-year-old Virginia boy was suspended for a day this month for pointing his finger like a gun in a school hallway. Also this month, a 10-year-old Virginia boy was arrested for allegedly showing an orange-tipped toy gun from a dollar store to other students on a school bus. The Washington Post says such episodes are getting new attention since the Newtown shootings. As schools take extra security steps, sensitivity about threats, intruders, and guns–even pretend guns–is heightened. This kind of reaction followed the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.
Suspensions or expulsions can permanently mar a student's record and label them as troublemakers — or, when arrests are made, even criminals. “It's a Catch-22 for schools,” said Catherine Bradshaw of the Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence at Johns Hopkins University. “They don't want to overreact, but they don't want to turn a blind eye to what they should be concerned about.” Judith Browne Dianis of the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization that works on the issue, said there is much anecdotal evidence that schools are ratcheting up discipline. “Clearly, we're post-Newtown,” Dianis said. “We're seeing more school districts rushing to hire more police, and we're seeing a rise in the number of incidents of school discipline that puts common sense to the side.”