When an Empty Case Equals School Suspension

I have a little boy. He just turned 5 years old. And as all of my mom friends who had sons before me warned, boys love to collect odds and ends of all kinds. And the messier, the dirtier, or the more nonsensical, the better.

Parents of sons, I am sure you know this routine. Search those little boys’ pockets, book bags, closets, or drawers, and you may stumble upon more than just dust bunnies or lint. You may discover anything from rocks, coins, and paper wads to feathers, dried dandelions, and toy cars. Some of the more daring or grotesque items I’ve heard of—and not experienced, at least not yet—include chicken bones, dead bugs, dried-up worms, and scabs.

Little children can certainly be curious and carefree little collectors of things. Unfortunately, this very characteristic recently got a 9-year-old Kansas boy suspended because he brought an empty shell case to school in his pocket.

According to the local newspaper, the youngster was out with his mother the evening before, and while she and a friend were sighting a rifle for deer-hunting season, he picked up one of the empty shell cases from the floor and put it in his pocket. He brought it to school the next day, and at some point, the case fell out of his pocket. When the boy’s mom was called to the school, she was informed that an administrator had already questioned her son without an adult present in the room. And when she finally saw him, he was in tears.

This topic especially rings true in my household since I work in the firearms industry, my husband and I reload our own ammunition, and my family goes to the shooting range a lot. There are sometimes empty cases all around our house…and sometimes in my car or in my purse. I try to keep track of them and round all of them up, but even the other day, as I reached for my wallet to pay for a lunch out with my kids, a 9mm case popped out and bounced around the floor by my feet. I’m not sure if anyone noticed it or knew what it was, for that matter. But I suppose I should be thankful that I wasn’t a little child at school, who made a silly but innocent mistake.

Initially, the elementary-school-aged boy was threatened with a 186-day expulsion for the incident, but ultimately, he was suspended for five days. While most people would agree that he shouldn’t have brought the case to school in the first place, the reaction to his blunder seems to be more of an overreaction, as there was nothing dangerous about what he had done. Even the county attorney admitted that he doesn’t consider a spent case to be “ammunition” under the school’s weapon policy. But the district is not backing down, stating that student and staff safety is of the utmost importance.

But shouldn’t it be equally as important to be more prudent about what our schools classify as zero-tolerance violations? Having empty brass in one’s pocket, making “bang-bang” sounds, or biting Pop-tarts into crude gun shapes should not be reasons school children are getting into serious trouble.

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