Zero Tolerance

Judge Upholds Suspension of the Pop-Tart Gun Kid

Why did teachers go nuclear in response to poorly timed pastry playacting?


Katherine Mangu-Ward / Reason

Remember the Pop-Tart gun kid? He was 7 years old when he was suspended for chewing his breakfast (not actually a Pop-Tart, as it turned out) into the shape of a weapon and pretending to fire it at his classmates. Now he's 11, and Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Ronald A. Silkworth just upheld his suspension

In the end, the case hinged on whether the pastry incident was, in fact, the last straw in a long line of disciplinary problems. The Maryland school says yes; the parents say at the time of the suspension they were told that the two day suspension was a direct result of the deployment of food weaponry and that no other incidents were mentioned.

The story got national attention. The Florida legislature even passed a bill specifically protecting the act of "brandishing a partially consumed pastry or other food item to simulate a firearm or weapon."

Last year the Maryland State Board of Education backed the school's narrative, finding that: "The student in this case 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."

And, at least according to the state review board decision, the kid's behavior log looks pretty clear—this wasn't the first incident where he disrupted the classroom, and his parents knew that. It also looks like the teachers and school staff were doing their best in a tough situation, offering accommodations to the kid and working with him to figure out strategies for success.

The records strongly suggest that this kid was trouble, but also that he was troubled. He was new to the school and joined the class late. In addition to the incidents of aggression, records contain multiple reports of the boy banging his own head on his desk and walls.

So why did the breakfast gun make the teachers go nuclear? On the day of the incident, before anyone at the school realized this would be a national story, the administration went straight to DEFCON 1, sending a letter home with every child in the school which read, in part, "If your children express that they are troubled by today's incident, please talk with them and help them share their feelings. Our school counselor is available to meet with any students who have the need to do so next week. In general, please remind them of the importance of making good choices."

But the documentation makes equally clear that pointing chewed up breakfast food at his classmates wasn't the most worrisome thing the kid got up to. The records say that over the span of a few months he left the school grounds during the instructional day, threw a chair, and punched a child in the nose.

Poorly timed pastry-based playacting wasn't his worst infraction, but in the months after Sandy Hook, teachers and administrators decided to treat it like it was. The huge overreaction to the Anne Arundel case was the result of a pattern of bad behavior, too—by school administrators who promote and enforce zero tolerance policies. 

NEXT: Why Weld Worries Libertarians, In Recent Bloomberg Interview

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I suppose the only appropriate grass roots response is Pop-Tart gun open carry?

    We should all go to our local Starbucks, and chew ourselves a Pop-Tart gun–right out in the open where everyone can see it!

    This is America, God damn it. And the freedom to chew myself a Pop-Tart gun in public is what being a libertarian is all about.

    1. I carry a bearclaw myself.

      1. The founders never anticipated today’s killer pastries. The idea that the public could carry a… bear’s claw… would have horrified them.

        1. Clearly a bearclaw is part of a beararm. This is constitutional.


            1. chews pastry toaster into 30 round poptart magazine

          2. *Bows in reverence*

          3. Nobody is saying that the right to beararms is unconstitutional with respect to hunting, but when anybody can get bearclaws without a background check, clearly the right to beararms needs to be subject to common sense regulation.

            Nobody is coming after your pastries, trust me.

        2. We mustn’t allow our rights to be frittered away!

      2. Mmmm…bearclaws….

    2. Fucking fatties.

      Steak tart.

      1. Mmmmhmmmm steak tart. This fatty approves wholeheartedly.

  2. “The Florida legislature even passed a bill specifically protecting the act of “brandishing a partially consumed pasty or other food item to simulate a firearm or weapon.”

    The fact this was even deemed necessary…Christ. This should make a Dadaist blush.

    1. Brandishing a pasty? Kinky…

    2. Darn your quick fingers, T H!

      Anyway, one wonders whether it’s illegal to “brandish a turd to simulate a firearm or weapon.”

      1. A turdy-eight snub?

    3. I don’t think it was deemed “necessary”, but rather an attempt to get legislators on the record as being nanny-statist or not. Political theater.

      It’s the sort of law that, a hundred years from now, will be mocked once this bit of backstory is lost from the record.

      1. Good. Do that with every law.

      2. Your future is much saner than mine. I’m guessing a 100 years from now, the law will be viewed as primitive because images of guns will be banned everywhere

        1. Alternate unintended consequences theory:

          Someone will fashion a simulated Glock out of a pastry and paint it realistically. Then they use it to commit a crime.

          There are enhancer riders for people using non-guns (bb guns and toy guns) to treat them like real guns in many jurisdictions. So now we have a specific exemption for this treatment.

          I predict a rash of robberies, rapes, hostage taking and muggings predicated on taking advantage of this loophole.

        2. We’ll be sending gun grabbers through the woodchippers before that ever happens.

    4. They realize that Maryland assholes become Florida snowbirds.

  3. And this bullshit reminds me of exactly why O moved out of Maryland.

    My second favorite school-related incident. My Ex’s cousin was being bullied in a Baltimore County school. The parents eventually metwoth the guidance counselor who told them that her daughter used to also attend that school and she eventually got her daughter into a private school as a solution. As a postscript the associated high school had a shooting a few years back with the suspect identifying reaponding to being bullied as motivation.

    1. mans inhumanity to man is damning.

    2. That’s pretty much how Columbine started, but no one seems to remember that little item.

    1. *hovers over link, thinks better of it*

      I do need to sleep soon. You understand.

      1. I shall never sleep again.


    3. How did you find that video? Is that serious? It was very seriously done in a fashion consistent with vlogs I have seen of that cohort. I watched the whole 3 minutes. Her ten reasons were all variations of the following:
      – its nothing new, people have done this forever
      – its convenient
      – its safe
      – the dog isn’t a needy, demanding person
      – the dog can be trained

      I take issue with all her reasons and variations of reasons because they are subjective and demeaning to the dog. The dog isn’t a needy or demanding person, its a dog. Even the best dog is needy and demanding, it just cant say what it wants in words. The whole thing struck me as cruel to the animal and weirdly feminist/anti-man.

      Its remarkable this girl even posted her facebook. Imagine when she has her first job interview and the HR deep search brings that up.

      1. I personally would love to be in the room when that happens…knowing the HR wogs I have dealt with over the years I can only imagine how that would come up.

    4. That background looks pretty goddamn close to jail in my town.

      It’s nice that they let her blog while the police dog is “on break”.

    5. That sounds (and is) gross, but back in the 1980s/1990s, the then equivalent of 50 Shades of Grey (by Nancy Friday), had women’s sexual fantasies, including seducing the neighbor’s dog. And IIRC, then the neighbor joined in.

    6. My wife says I’m not allowed to play with you any more.

    7. You dawg!

  4. Okay, bad kid.

    Regardless, I’d be PROUD to have “suspended for brandishing Pop-Tart gun” on my “permanent record.”

    1. Are you Ron “Tater Salad – Pop Tart Bandit” White?

    2. The world would be a lot safer if you guys dropped pop tarts instead of bombs.

      1. *WE* don’t drop bombs, only mics.

        1. Frank’s a bomb dropper (albeit a reluctant one).

      2. Ignorance and stupidity. Always a package deal.

        1. “Ignorance and arrogance”

  5. I’m cynical enough to believe that the teachers and administrators responsible might well have been unhinged enough to consider “unlawful possession of a pop tart gun” to be a more serious offense than throwing a chair or punching another student in the nose.

    But even if they were being pragmatic and cynical themselves, rather than unhinged, they were still in the wrong. It’s wrong to lynch or railroad someone accused of a crime, even if they are guilty as sin. It’s wrong to have a mock trial to whitewash the accused, even if innocent or justified in their actions. And it’s wrong to hammer someone for something that’s only a trivial infraction – or not an infraction at all – as a substitute for punishing them over their real wrongdoing.

    1. Covering your ass is always job #1.

      Procedures were followed.

  6. “That kid’s a regular Dirty Harry! Put him on the list!”

    –Dianne Feinstein

    1. As far as the ‘swine is concerned – make it look like suicide.

  7. The records say that over the span of a few months he left the school grounds during the instructional day, threw a chair, and punched a child in the nose.

    So, in other words = “A kid”

    1. If by A you mean asshole.

      1. You must the sort of libertarian who thinks state-mandated cages called “schools” are actually the best means to teach children social skills.

        1. The out-going editor of our favorite print magazine proudly sent his 2 y/o to a state-mandated cage.

          1. Compulsory public education isn’t required until you’re six in NY.

            so he’s just getting city-financed day-care i guess. Which is entirely voluntary.

            what’s creepier is that you know this. Did matt write something about where he was schooling his kids?

            There’s nothing de-facto wrong about sending kids to public school. its just self-styled libertarian-dude’s assumption that “kids acting out” the way many 7yr olds act out is somehow especially abnormal. a single punch over months is only surprising for the fact that it was apparently an isolated case. if a kid has actual ‘violence issues’, they aren’t usually so restrained. this is just zero-tolerance stupidity.

            1. Did matt write something about where he was schooling his kids?

              Yeah, back when he moved to NY. 2 seemed kinda young for ” public school” but I understand getting into the right urban public daycare is a big status symbol for some people in in some places.

          2. SIV, did you lose you lose your shit or something?

            You used to make sense. Now… What the fuck?

            1. You used to make sense.

              [citation needed]

        2. Many social skills should be known by age 7.

          Not sure why a 7 year old doesnt understand throwing chairs and punching kids (implied as the aggressor) is wrong.

          My 6 year old knows this as does my 4 year old. They didnt learn it in the school they learned it at home.

          1. I’m sure your children will learn to be assholes as they age.

            1. Tulpa doesn’t have kids.

    2. Punches to the face warrant a suspension. There is no reason a school should tolerate that nor any reason the other kids should be required to put up with it.

      I’ve of the opinion that you send your kid to school prepared to learn. The burden is on the parents to deal with that kind of behavior.

    3. Throwing chairs and punching people is not normal at any age.

  8. Maryland public schools euphemistically refer to the cooler as “the Learning Lab”.

  9. The records strongly suggest?that?this kid was trouble, but also that he was troubled.

    You know who else was a troubled kid who went on to do bad things?

    1. Wayne Allen “delegate for Trump” Root?

  10. We must ban pie!

  11. This kid is a future terrorist. The ‘zero-tolerance’ policies don’t help, but the real problem is the parents who refuse to discipline their children. Of course, the school is prohibited from taking any action other than suspending him. And ‘modern psychology’ says you cannot discipline your children, only ask them to ‘share feelings’. It’s a pretty stupid bind. You can understand how Omar Mateen ended up like he did.

    1. So the problem isn’t actually parents who don’t discipline their kids but state intervention that prevents parents from doing so?

      1. The problem is parents who raise their kids to be wild animals, relishing in their children’s rebellion. But yes the state intervention can exacerbate it. Not surprising, considering that many parts of the government will make a lot of money off these kids. OK now go ahead and defend the government’s right to profit from criminals or deny knowledge of any such thing:

        1. NAP can be tricky… Especially if you have no good examples of how not to be an abusive asshole to kids. If you dont have good examples of how to not hit or threathen the child, your chances of repeating the abusive portions of your childhoos are increased.

          1. Or make excuses for them (and applaud the kid for his mischief).

  12. “…progressive intervention…”

    That explains everything.

  13. BTW, the ‘Can you hear me now?’ guy pop-up ads that you cannot escape are pathetic and they coincide with the change in editors.
    Not good, and you *can* escape them by closing the Reason web site. Did you hear that, KMW?

    1. I’m not getting them, so apparently you CAN escape. (Chrome with AdBlock)

    2. uBlock is your friend.

  14. Attention SF area Reasonoids! We are planning a meetup on July 3rd. Email me at my handle @ to get on the list.

    Sevo, don’t be shy!

    1. Sevo told me that he doesn’t want to see your comic books.

      1. But there will be craft beer!

        1. Sorry, he spelled that wrong.

          There will be Kraft beer.

          And Kraft Dinner.

          Canadians welcome!

  15. Yawn. Big stretch. So, my piece of shit windows phone finally crapped out. I have not been this happy since my son was born.
    The auto spell on this android actually makes sense, and is self teaching.
    The process of getting the new phone was handled the very worst way you could imagine. So, everybody wasted two hours because I was too busy to be there.
    I’m good at tech, but I got a guy charges $90/hr and actually is worth it. One day to set it up? Hell yeah.
    Right now: all my personal shit works, but I can’t receive work emails. It’s very hard on me.

      1. Work emails, probably exchange. You don’t have IT department where you work, Denver I.

          1. I’m guessing denverj doesn’t know the server settings to put in.

            And if his exchange administrator knows what he’s doing, he’ll be blocked until the admin verifies the device and puts it in the ‘allowed’ group.

  16. Seen on Twitter:

    “Only paranoid idiots want AR-15s in case the government becomes tyrannical.”

    “What do you think of Trump?”

    “He’s literally the next Hitler!”

  17. If your children express that they are troubled by today’s incident, please talk with them and help them share their feelings.

    If you children express that they are troubled by partially eaten breakfast pastries, give them up for adoption at the earliest possible opportunity, as you are destroying your child through incompetent parenting. Personal sterilization is also recommended to save any potential future children from the same fate.

  18. This has nothing to do with Zero Tolerance idiocy, nor with hysteria after the Sandy Hook shootings. It is not idiocy. It is deliberate. It is a tactic. Idiocy is just the smoke screen. This is a program to condition, to terrorize, to brainwash our children into fearing and hating manhood, guns, patriotism, and Americanism. If the Liberal Vermin can ruin our children, they have won.

    Counterattack. Buy your child a gun, as young as he or she can operate one, and take them to the range. Let them talk it up with their friends. Spread the Good News. Spread the Good News in school.

    And teach your children to trust nothing about the education system. Take the education they give you, but only believe the “hard” stuff like mathematics and physics. Parrot the rest back, but never believe it. Be subtle as snakes. Give nothing back to the system. Whatever you say will be taken down and used against you. Treat them as if they were enemy captors interrogating you as a POW. Know that the teacher is a cop who wants to destroy you; a tyrant who wants to enslave you, a spy who wants to betray you.

    Sorry about that, good teachers, and voters, but you have the responsibility to take the schools back. So do the district’s voters. Harangue, harass, and if necessary, terrorize the Liberal Vermin out of the system. Otherwise, you’re part of the problem, too. No prisoners. No quarter.

    ????? ????

    1. At this point, there are no good reasons to tell anyone what you might or might not have in that big black safe at home. Or elsewhere in the house. And for damn sure not a doctor. “Do you have any guns at home?” the form asks. The doc asks it again like she can’t read the form. “No, Doc, we sure don’t.”

  19. If I were a child today, I would be burned at the stake.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.