Education

Judge upholds suspension of then-7-year-old boy in infamous pop tart gun case

Posted June 23

A Baltimore-area boy who originally was suspended from school as a 7-year-old in 2013 has lost his appeal in court, the Washington Post reports. The boy, who is now 11, became a poster child for humorless over-reacting school officials when he was sanctioned for having chewed his Pop Tart into the shape of a gun and told classmates, "Look, I made a gun."

The incident provoked nationwide attention and prompted the Florida legislature to pass a law specifically preventing schools from punishing children for "brandishing a partially consumed pastry or other food item to simulate a firearm or weapon."

"It seems to me that schools need, with all their expertise and experience, they need to know how to deal with 7-year-old second-graders without putting them out of the educational setting," Robin Ficker, the attorney representing the family, told CBS News after the hearing officer ruled in June of 2014. "They need to deal with them rather than just throwing in the towel. If they can't deal with 7-year-olds, how can they deal with 17-year-olds?"

The case has moved slowly through the legal system. Last year, the Maryland Board of Education ruled that the student "had a long history of behavioral problems that were the subject of progressive intervention by the school. He created a classroom disruption on March 1, 2013, which resulted in a suspension that was justified based on the incident in question and the student's history."

At the time of the original suspension, the hearing officer who denied the appeal supported the school's contention that the Pop Tart gun was only the last in a long line of disruptive incidents.

"As much as the parents want this case to be about a 'gun,' it is, rather, a case about classroom disruption from a student who has had a long history of disruptive behavior," Nussbaum wrote in his opinion, which was dated June 26, the Washington Post reported. He asserted that the suspension came as a result of disciplinary problems the boy had, and not just because of what he did with the breakfast pastry.

"Had the student chewed his cereal bar into the shape of a cat and ran around the room, disrupting the classroom and making 'meow' cat sounds, the result would have been exactly the same," Nussbaum wrote, according to the Post.

If the court is correct, and the boy's suspension was justified given the totality of the circumstances, it will probably make no difference in the storyline.

The legend of the Pop Tart gun suspension may already be as fixed in the public mind as the infamous 1997 case of the woman who sued McDonald's after being burned by a coffee spill, in which a jury awarded the plaintiff $2.7 million in punitive damages, later reduced to $640,000.

As FindLaw notes, that case entered popular lore as illustrating tort litigation gone mad, such that few people ever learned that the plaintiff had suffered third-degree burns over 6 percent of her body, that McDonald's had been repeatedly warned that its coffee was too hot and that the woman had offered to settle for $2,000 before going to trial, but McDonald's refused to go above $800.

Email: eschulzke@deseretnews.com

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