How did we get to the point where activities conducted on someone's private property can somehow fall under the jurisdiction of a public school? The short version is this: concerns about actual criminal activity on school grounds led to tighter controls being built into policies. A few school shootings upped the ante and provoked disproportionate reactions from several legislators. And just in case no one felt the new weapon and violence policies erected to prevent the unpreventable weren't being taken seriously enough, the government "helpfully" tied these new rules to federal funding.
"Playing it safe" just isn't good enough anymore. Every administrator is compelled to err on the (uber-ridiculous) side of caution because to do otherwise might result in angry parents, or worse, the loss of federal funding. Anything that bears a slight resemblance to a gun is treated as the real thing -- a weapon powerful enough to kill someone -- even if that "weapon" is a Pop Tart, four fingers and a thumb or drawn on a piece of paper.
The illogical extremes seen in these earlier incidents has been surpassed by Larkspur Middle School of the Virginia Beach School District. Apparently, you don't even have to bring your "weapon" onto school property to be suspended for "possession, handling and use of an Airsoft gun."
Three Virginia Beach seventh graders learned their fates Tuesday morning when they were suspended for shooting airsoft guns on private property.
During a hearing with a disciplinary committee Tuesday morning, Aidan Clark, Khalid Caraballo and a third friend were given long-term suspensions in a unanimous vote. The suspensions will last until June, but a hearing will be held January 27 to determine if they will be allowed back in school sooner.
Here's a little backstory:
Like thousands of others in Hampton Roads, Caraballo and Clark play with airsoft guns. The boys were suspended because they shot two other friends who were with them while playing with the guns as they waited for the school bus September 12.
The two seventh graders say they never went to the bus stop with the guns; they fired the airsoft guns while on Caraballo's private property.
The bus stop in question is 70 yards away. Three days before the above incident (Sep. 9), a parent of one these students' friends placed a 911 call to report her concern about Caraballo's use of a fake gun on his own property.
A neighbor saw Khalid shooting the airsoft gun in his front yard. She told the dispatcher, "He is pointing the gun, and it looks like there's a target in a tree in his front yard". [The "target" the caller referred to is an actual target that comes with the Airsoft gun -- not a "target" as in "the person being shot at."]
The caller also knew the gun wasn't real and said so, "This is not a real one, but it makes people uncomfortable. I know that it makes me (uncomfortable), as a mom, to see a boy pointing a gun," she told the 911 dispatcher.
Issue #1: Who the fuck calls 911 to report being "uncomfortable?" Everyone knows, even children, that 911 is for emergencies only
and not for reporting that you strongly feel a neighbor's kid shouldn't be playing with a fake gun on his own property. What's even worse about this busy-bodied, overweening "concern" is that her personal Neighborhood Watch & Comfortability Patrol didn't even keep her own child from playing with the (fake) gun-toting neighbor neighbors.
Ironically, that 911 caller's son was playing with Khalid and Aidan in the Caraballo front yard on September 12. There were six children playing in an airsoft gun war. "We see the bus come. We put the gun down. We did not take the airsoft gun to the bus stop. We did not take the gun to school," Khalid explained.
Aidan admits shooting the caller's son in the arm, and Khalid admits shooting another friend in the back. "He knew we had the airsoft gun. He knew we were playing. He knew people were getting shot. We were shooting at the tree, but he still came and even after he was shot he still played," referring to the son of the 911 caller.
This 911 caller seems better suited to parenting other people's children, seeing as her son wandered into the "war zone" unattended.
Despite her call to 911, the police department found there was nothing much to get excited about, according to this statement from Virginia Beach police sergeant Adam Bernstein:
We understand that a number of juveniles possess air soft guns and have “airsoft gun” wars with each other, but as it relates to the city code referenced above, they are in violation of the code if the juveniles are not exercising “reasonable care”. Also keep in mind that this is not something that we proactively seek out to enforce. If we receive a complaint (such as in the case for which you are doing the story on), we will investigate the call for service and enforce it appropriately, i.e. warning or prosecution…
However, a few days later (Sep. 12), a "passing motorist" called the police to report a child with a gun chasing another child down the street "near a Larkspur bus stop." This call confirms that at least one of the students (Khalid Caraballo) did not
leave his yard while playing with his airsoft gun.
" ... the white child appeared to have a gun, and he was chasing the other child ... when he saw me he kind of stuck it in his pants. I don't know if it was a toy or if they were playing," said the 911 caller in the Sept. 12 call.
The caller was speaking about 12-year-old Aidan Clark, who admits he ran off Caraballo's property into the street in front of Khalid's house.
"I ran and chased him. I aimed to shoot, and I saw a car on the right," Clark said.
"He looked directly at me and the black child kept on running," the 911 caller said.
Aidan was chasing a third child, who is African American and who was also suspended. Aidan says Khalid never left his property and none of the boys shot the guns while in the street.
Despite this being clearly out of its jurisdiction, the administration at Larkspur Middle School leapt into action, according to a letter sent to parents
by principal Matthew Delaney.
In the course of the investigation, conducted in concert with a police officer and the school division Office of Safety and Loss Control, we identified the children who were firing pellet guns at each other and at people near the bus stop. Several students verified that they had been hit by pellets and had the marks to support their claims. In one instance, a child was only 10 feet from the bus stop and ran from the shots being fired but was still hit. Another student claimed to be shot in the back while running away during a previous incident Wednesday, Sept. 11. This child was also shot in the arm and head during Thursday’s incident. I contacted the school division’s Office of Student Leadership and School Board Legal Counsel for guidance. Because students were on their way to or at a school bus stop when they were struck by pellets, the school division has jurisdiction to take disciplinary actions against those students responsible for the disruption. There is an expectation that all students should be able to travel to and from school in the safest environment possible.
This statement leaves out a whole lot of details and relies heavily on Delaney's punishment-n-seriousness depiction of the events. According to the students, they were playing together
. Delaney's wording makes it appear as though students were ambushed on their way to school. Either if they were, what happens outside of school isn't the school's jurisdiction, no matter what the legal counsel for the school board thinks. A school cannot
assure that children are able to travel back and forth to school safely. The only environment it can even possibly
control is the school bus.
Is the school actually
taking the position that it's responsible for students' safe transit at any point between school and home
? If so, then every
parent whose kid is injured in any way while walking or biking to school has a valid claim against the school. That surely can't be what Delaney or his legal counsel want.
This should have been left where it was originally -- with the police if they felt like following up on the situation. The public streets are theirs to police. If it happened entirely in someone's yard, this should have been left up to the parents/property owners. Instead, administration decided to extend its territory solely for the purpose of enforcing its own stupid policies.
More from Delaney:
As the principal of Larkspur Middle School, I am responsible for the safety of students and will take all appropriate actions to ensure that the students using the pellet guns are appropriately disciplined and held responsible for their conduct. It is my sincere hope that they will learn important life lessons; the most important being that there will be consequences when they do things that can result in harm to another person.
This isn't the lesson you're teaching, Mark. You're teaching that every action a students takes, whether truly harmful or not, has the possibility of being severely punished by self-appointed, state-sponsored "saviors" like yourself, people who think nothing of damaging children's futures in order to assert and extend their authority.
Khalid and two other students have been suspended for possibly an entire year for shooting pellets at other students -- students that may
have been actively and voluntarily playing with the suspended "shooters." Does adding a damaging long-term suspension to their transcripts seems like a fair tradeoff for some ultimately harmless
pellet gunplay that occurred entirely
off-campus (and on private property
)? If so, your sense of proportion is severely out of whack, Mark.
This was a dangerous situation that involved the intervention of law enforcement, the Office of Safety and Loss Control and our school administration.
Bullshit, Matthew. You're lying
. Nothing was "dangerous." No one "intervened." Someone reported something to the police who reported it to you. The incident was over. It occurred before school, off school grounds and was entirely over by the time you decided to teach these students some "life lessons." This is you adding some spin in order to make it sound as though you've somehow averted a future tragedy with your swift, harsh overreaction. But the only thing you've done is shown everyone that you have no fear of extending your reach and expanding your jurisdiction.
The school board has issued a statement
backing Principal Delaney's decision while going out of its way to take a swing at the press and detail Khalid Caraballo's disciplinary record (and has been "helpfully" provided in jpeg format).
We live and work in an era when school safety is foremost in everyone's mind. Yet somehow student safety has taken a back seat in the intense media coverage of this case. This is not an example of a public educator overreaching. This was not zero tolerance at all. This was a measured response to a student safety threat. A school principal took firm steps to ensure weapons didn't make their way into his school and that children didn't have to endure being shot at with a pellet gun as they walked to their bus stop...
All of that might be considered to be true if the final decision from the school board
didn't state that the students were being suspended for "possession, handling and use of an Airsoft gun" -- something that did not
occur on school property. So, it was definitely overreach, and the possibility of being suspended for an entire year for something that occurred outside of school sure sounds like an overreaction.
The school board's letter continues, detailing Khalid Caraballo's disciplinary record (which includes "increasingly aggressive behavior including harassment, bullying and fighting that resulted in injuries") in order to justify its decision to claim public streets and private yards as its jurisdiction. While this lends more credence to the suggestion that these kids were
ambushing students on their way to the bus stop, it doesn't change the fact that the location where these events occurred is the jurisdiction of local law enforcement -- and ultimately, a problem to be handled by the police and parents of the children.
Daniel Edwards, chairman of the school board, states that he can discuss Caraballo's previous discipline problems because his parents signed a waiver. (None of the other students are mentioned by name in this report.) But his parents maintain they never gave him the permission to do so.
His parents told 10 On Your Side they are upset by that and said they signed a waiver for the school system to talk to WAVY about the airsoft incident only.
Edwards wraps up the letter by bemoaning the press and its "sensational" coverage of the incident.
Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt in this latest incident, but they could have been. Had a child been injured either by a weapon or as a result of fleeing the scene, the school may have been the subject of a different kind of news story; one that included accusations of turning a blind eye toward student safety. We hope that people will look beyond the sensational media reports and recognize that fact.
If you think you're going to be roasted no matter what decision you make, maybe you should make fewer lousy decisions. Kicking these students out of school doesn't change the fact that they live close to the bus stop and could easily return to attacking other students (if that's what actually happened). All this decision has done is made these three kids "not your problem," at least not until next January. And all that means is they're right back where they started -- in public streets and private property -- not your problem. If the media chooses to excoriate you because someone got injured on private property or public walkways, that says more about the media than anything else. But their overreaction doesn't justify one of your own.