Matthew Miele’s October 30th Facebook status summed it up, though it was hard to believe: “Make Believe Bow + Arrow = 3 Day Suspension.”
According to Miele, his 6-year-old son, Malachi, was playing “Power Rangers” with friends at his school recess the day before when Malachi pretended to shoot some of them with an imaginary bow and arrow.
After another student reported Malachi’s pretend play to a teacher, Principal Joe Crachiolo at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Westwood, Ohio determined Malachi’s play to be “serious behavior” that “threatened the commitment to the educational process,” according to a letter that Miele posted on Facebook.
Malachi was subsequently suspended out of school for three days for shooting a make-believe arrow with a make-believe bow, his father reported.
A letter that Miele said the school sent to parents after the incident stated, “Schools have been in the news far too often due to violence, threats, and the like… Pretend playing that we may have done when we were younger (myself included) is no longer appropriate, especially at school.” The letter states the school has instituted a zero-tolerance policy toward real or pretend violence, with out of school suspension the consequence.
For Miele, who is a firefighter and paramedic for the City of Cincinnati, the punishment did not fit the crime. “No child should be suspended for shooting an imaginary bow and arrow, during non malicious play, with other children,” he said in a Facebook status during Malachi’s suspension.
"What I find unacceptable is that this school is so scared that they are unable to distinguish the difference between a credible threat and a boy pretending to be a Power Ranger, playing with an imaginary bow and arrow,” Miele said on Facebook.
In a letter to the school responding to the incident, Miele noted that “there needs to be a progressive level of discipline, which allows for teachable moments. This was not progressive, this went to the most severe punishment that could be administered short of expulsion,” pointing to the school’s code of conduct handbook for reference.
TODAY Parents reached out to Miele and the school for comment, but they did not respond.
Zero-tolerance policies regarding “dangerous or threatening” behavior may leave no room for what experts say is normal, developmentally appropriate play for young boys. According to Michael Thompson, PhD, in “Understanding Boy Aggression” on PBS.com, "We often see young boys playing out aggressive themes. It's only a problem when it gets out of control.”
Teacher Jane Katch agrees, she told PBS.com: “If a boy is playing a game about super heroes, you might see it as violent. But the way he sees it, he's making the world safe from the bad guys. This is normal and doesn't indicate that anything is wrong unless he repeatedly hurts or tries to dominate the friends he plays with. And sometimes an act that feels aggressive to one child was actually intended to be a playful action by the child who did it. When this happens in my class, we talk about it, so one child can understand that another child's experience may be different than his own. This is the way empathy develops.”