An East Valley eighth-grader was suspended this week after he turned in homework with a sketch that school officials said resembled a gun and posed a threat to his classmates.
But parents of the 13-year-old, who attends Payne Junior High School in the Chandler Unified School District, said the drawing was a harmless doodle of a fake laser, and school officials overreacted.
“I just can’t believe that there wasn’t another way to resolve this,” said Paula Mosteller, the boy’s mother. “He’s so upset. The school made him feel like he committed a crime. They are doing more damage than good.”
Payne Junior High officials did not allow the Tribune to view the drawing. The Mostellers said the drawing did not depict blood, injuries, bullets or any human targets. They said it was just a drawing that resembled a gun.
But Payne Junior High administrators determined that was enough to constitute a gun threat and gave the boy a five-day suspension that was later reduced to three days.
The Tribune isn’t publishing the boy’s first name at the request of his parents.
The suspension follows an unrelated incident earlier this month in which Gilbert police were called to Payne Junior High School to investigate a rumor of a girl bringing a gun on campus. No gun was found and a letter was sent home to parents.
In the letter, school officials told parents about the incident and indicated there would be a zero-tolerance policy toward gun threats.
Chandler district spokesman Terry Locke said the school is not allowed to discuss students’ discipline records. However, he said the sketch was “absolutely considered a threat,” and threatening words or pictures are punished.
The school did not contact police about the threat and did not provide counseling or an evaluation to the boy to determine if he intended the drawing as a threat.
The Mostellers said their son has no discipline record at the school because they just moved from Colorado this year.
The sketch was one of several drawings scratched in the margins of a science assignment that was turned in on Friday. The boy said he never meant for the picture to be seen as a threat. He said he was just drawing because he finished an assignment early.
School officials issued the suspension on Monday afternoon and notified the student’s father, Ben. He met with school officials and persuaded them to shorten the suspension from five days to three.
A second student was also suspended Monday for a sketch on his homework. However, that student and his parents could not be reached for comment about the nature of that drawing.
Ben Mosteller was allowed to see his son’s drawing at the school but was not permitted to make a copy to bring home to his wife.
Paula Mosteller said she has been unable to reach the school’s principal, Karen Martin, or the vice principal, Dave Constance, since Monday to talk about the suspension. Martin and Constance did not return several phone calls to the school for comment.
When Ben Mosteller came to the school to discuss his son’s punishment, he said school officials mentioned the seriousness of the issue and talked about the massacre at Columbine High School — the site where two teenagers shot and killed 12 students and injured 24 others in 1999 at Littleton, Colo.
The Mostellers said the Columbine reference was extreme and offensive. They have contacted the district’s governing board about the incident.
“We understand that there was zero tolerance and the sketch could look like a gun, but the way this was handled was so horribly wrong,” Paula Mosteller said. “Hopefully, when my son goes back to school on Friday this will all be behind him. But a school accusing a child like this can have a huge effect on a child for the rest of his life.”