The mother of a 6-year-old with Down syndrome was informed that the school called the police on her daughter for a “transient threat.” Unbelievably, the child was placed under investigation.
Maggie Gaines was shocked when Tredyffrin-Easttown School District called to inform her that her 6-year-old with Down syndrome had threatened a teacher with a very specific hand gesture and phrase. However, the protective mom has spoken out in an effort to not only exonerate her little girl but to change the district’s policy for others.
While protecting students and staff members is a top priority for many schools, some believe that certain safety policies have taken the fear of violence too far. Unfortunately, this was the case when the Pennsylvania mom discovered that her special needs child was being considered as a possible risk to the school’s safety.
According to KYW-TV, Gaines’ daughter Margot was placed under a disciplinary investigation after she pointed her finger at her teacher and said, “I shoot you.” Gaines argues that the young girl became flustered and doesn’t even have the mental capacity to understand her action.
“My daughter got frustrated and pointed her finger at her teacher and said, ‘I shoot you,’” Gaines said. “At that point, they went to the principal’s office and it was quickly assessed that she didn’t even really know what she was saying.”
Although everyone involved in the case agrees that Margot had no idea what she was saying, the school called the police on the child. While sources claim that Margot doesn’t have a police record, her name is now part of an official report that remains confidential.
“They get this phone call and I was fine with everything up until calling the police,” Gaines said. “And I said, ‘You absolutely do not have to call the police. You know, this is ridiculous.’ She really didn’t understand what she was saying, and having Down syndrome is one aspect, but I’m sure all 6-year-olds don’t really know what that means. Now, there is a record at the police that says she made a threat to her teacher.”
Gaines says that Margot often uses the phrase in non-threatening ways and doesn’t intend it for harm. She added that even the principal questioned her daughter and concluded that it wasn’t an actual threat.
“They were asking her questions, and she was saying, ‘Oh, I shoot mommy,’ laughs, or, ‘I shoot my brother.’ The principal asked, ‘Did you mean to hurt your teacher?’ And she said no and it seemed like she didn’t even know what that meant,” Gaines stated.
The district has responded to the incident and media speculation, arguing that school officials are required by law to report such threats to the police, the Daily Local News reports. The district added that Margot doesn’t have a “criminal or juvenile record,” but the extent of the report is unknown.
“Policy and regulation … specifies that threat assessment teams consult with police,” the school district responded. “Consultation is not the same as making a police report and asking for an investigation. It allows the district to receive an opinion from law enforcement regarding the level of threat, but equally important allows agencies to confer and use the information they have to plan for appropriate supports. Consultation does not create a criminal or juvenile record for the child…”
Still, Gaines isn’t happy with the way the district has handled the situation. Although she has appealed to the district to amend the current policy, she wants to make it clear that she doesn’t blame the teacher or principal for following what they believe are the lawful requirements.
“My going public with our story was not to bash the teacher or the principal of my daughter’s school. They are both amazing professionals, who I respect tremendously,” Gaines wrote. “In this case, they were both just doing their jobs. They were told to follow a policy and a protocol, which they did. The real issue here is a bad policy that unnecessarily escalates even the most minor childhood issues to the police to create an incident report. It doesn’t have to be this way. And my community needs to stand up and make sure the TESD School Board and Administration changes it to ensure it doesn’t happen again to my daughter or any other children in our district again.”
Gaines received the support of State Sen. Andy Dinniman, who questioned the district’s apparent lack of judgment in the handling of Margot’s case.
“While I understand the paramount importance of school safety, I am concerned about what appears to be a lack of judgment and accountability in interpreting state law and applying such policies,” Dinniman said.
Gaines is fighting for a change to the district’s guidelines for handling situations in which they deem a student not to be a risk. She doesn’t want to see anyone punished, but she doesn’t want to have to worry that her child will once again be disciplined for similar instances.
Margot is the same happy, loving little girl she has always been. Most importantly, the incident hasn’t seemed to negatively affect her cheerful spirit.