Zero Tolerance

School Calls Cops on 6-Year-Old With Down Syndrome Who Made Finger Gun Gesture

The little girl said, "I shoot you," but her mother says she didn't understand what she was saying.

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School officials at Valley Forge Elementary in Tredyffrin, Pennsylvania, called the police on a 6-year-old girl who made a finger gun gesture at her teacher and said, "I shoot you." The girl has Down syndrome and didn't understand what she was saying, her mother told CBS Philly.

The principal and teacher agreed that the girl, Margot, had not intended to make a threat. But they informed the authorities anyway, citing a district policy that mandates safety threat assessments in all such cases.

"I was fine with everything up until they said 'and we have to call the police,'" Margot's mother, Maggie Gaines, told reporters. "I said 'you absolutely do not have to call the police.'"

Indeed, it was completely unnecessary for the school to involve the cops, which had the effect of creating a police report referencing Margot's actions. Unfortunately, district officials follow a policy of automatically calling the cops anytime someone's safety is remotely threatened. Per The Washington Post:

According to SAVVY Main Line, the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District ramped up its threat assessment protocols in 2018 in response to a spate of school shootings nationally and a highly publicized incident where a local middle-schooler was subjected to anti-Semitic threats. At a January meeting, one former school board member said the changes were "driven by events that occurred in our middle schools or high school," and that the intent had never been to involve police when elementary school students made "non-substantive" threats.

Another former school member who had a hand in drafting the current policy testified last week that he never imagined it would be applied to a 6-year-old with Down syndrome.

Lawmakers and policy architects frequently suffer from failures of imagination: They presume their laws and policies will be followed in exactly the manner they intend. But the officials who carry out and enforce said policies do not always exercise good judgment. Instead, they over-comply with the policy and follow it to the letter, which produces absurd results like these.

Margot's situation is a good reminder that unthinking public panic about safety in schools—divorced from any actual danger that is statistically significant—has a cost: It drives bad policy that promotes overcriminalization and invites law enforcement to intervene unnecessarily in disputes between students and teachers. Kids who make mistakes should face proportionate punishment—like a timeout, in Margot's case.

NEXT: Bloomberg’s Awful Old Quotes Defending Unconstitutional Stop-and-Frisk Are Coming Back to Haunt Him

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  1. As I recall there were some NAZI’s who also were only following orders. Teachers who can’t think for themselves shouldn’t be teaching

    1. Teachers who can’t think for themselves shouldn’t be teaching

      Not to blame the Mom, but I don’t think she made it clear enough: By calling the police you will be publicly admitting that you, an elementary school teacher, feared for your safety from an unarmed, retarded 6-yr.-old armed with her index finger. That as two adults, a teacher and an administrator, you are incapable of dealing with a 6-yr.-old retarded girl using her finger as a gun without involving law enforcement.

      FFS, I’m pretty sure this 6 yr. old will have figured out how to handle this situation better than the teacher and principal well before she reaches their age.

      1. That’s all well and good, but what does the teachers’ union say?

        1. “More money”

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  2. We’re not actually overreacting idiots who blindly follow stupid rules that cause unnecessary harm to families – we’re just following policy!

    They did not have to call the police. It’s up to the discretion of the principal and teacher to determine, what is a ‘threat to safety’, so they simply used extremely poor judgment in identifying the girls actions as a safety threat. If they hadn’t overreacted, they wouldn’t be “forced” under policy to call the police.

    1. You’re overreacting idiots who blindly follow stupid policies written by other overreacting idiots.

    2. Being unreasonable IS the policy.

      Look, they’ve only got a limited window in which to instill an unreasoning fear of anything firearms related, and then the little tykes escape their reach. Reasoned arguments aren’t going to get the job done, but insane over-reaction might.

      That’s what’s going on here: They’re basically trying to induce a phobic reaction to firearms in these kids, and being over the top and irrational like this is a calculated strategy to that end.

  3. Never imagined it would be used on a six-year old with Down’s Syndrome.

    Imagine that.

    1. Thank god this didn’t happen at Women and Women First.

  4. Alternative Headline: “Valley Forge Elementary School Teacher Feared For Her Life As Retarded 6-yr.-old Pointed Finger”

    Alternative byline: “Read about her harrowing escape as her attacker cackled ‘I shoot you!'”

    Seriously, name this woman, shame her to the ground. Reporting the incident to a principal or the parents, fine. Getting the police involved means, as the child’s mother pointed out, that you had a legitimate fear for your life from a 6-yr.-old retarded girl who was pointing her finger. Loosing this job for this incident would be too good for this woman but, just like with cops and the police unions, this woman won’t be fired and will likely go on to a lucrative career.

    1. How this got to the principal’s office is beyond me. The “teacher” shouldn’t be put in charge of humans anywhere if she can’t handle this without administrative intervention.

      “No playing guns in school” would have been the only legitimate option. And if it did make it to the principal’s office, the only legit response to the teacher should have been, “act like the professional teacher you are and handle it”.

  5. >>They presume their laws and policies will be followed in exactly the manner they intend.

    it *was* followed in exactly the manner it was intended. is a terrible law/policy regardless of whether the perpetrator has Downs Syndrome

    1. Exactly.

    2. In the dim dark ages when I was in school, the retarded kids got a pass for an awful lot. One kid with some severe behavior problems actually tried to bash a teacher’s head in with a stool. The police didn’t come and he was in school the next day.
      But that kid probably should have been locked up.

      1. I went to a public school where some of the teachers, no lie, should have been locked up. A history teacher bragged that he was quitting and becoming a private detective.
        One day he lined up some bullets on his desk and he made sure we students got a look at his shoulder holstered gun.

  6. If it prevents even just one kid with Down’s Syndrome from shooting up a school…

    1. It’s far more likely to INSPIRE a kid to do so…

      1. Whole world is gone mental and we need to pay more attention to what is good like Gold Coast Sex

  7. For a lot of school teachers and administrators, their greatest fear is leaving their asses uncovered.

    1. Bingo. First rule of being a government employee: NEVER, EVER take responsibility for making a decision.

  8. What does the policy actually say? Without that information, I don’t know if the fault lies with the principal or with the person covering his ass by claiming he never imagined this scenario.

  9. Do you blame the wolves, or the school administrator who threw the child to the wolves? Hard question in an era when wolves are sacred. Thin blue line for wolves.

    1. Official wolf procedure was followed. Fangs and claws were deployed.

    2. It is like when people get “swatted”. Everyone wants to punish the person who called the cops. Fine they should be punished for filing a false report. But, it is the fucking cops who show up ready for a special operations shoot house and end up shooting people that should be blamed. No one should EVER get killed because police received an anonymous “tip”. That should be what BEGINS the investigation, not what triggers the assault.
      Same here. If cops said the following: “WTF? You called us because a 6 year old girl with down syndrome points her fingers at you? This isn’t a police matter. And if you call us again for this, we will cite you for filing a false report!” then school districts wouldn’t waste their fucking time anymore. But, because cops have to “take it seriously” then everyone else does, too.

      1. I’m not sure what I think about the swatting thing. Part of police’s job is to respond to emergencies. It’s not all investigation. Of course they shouldn’t start shooting unless they really know what’s going on with some certainty, but I can’t really blame them for showing up ready for a gunfight if someone calls and says that there’s a guy with a gun shooting people or something like that.
        Yes, the police bear complete responsibility for their own actions. But I also feel like calling the cops on someone is a bit like releasing a hungry tiger in their house.

        1. Part of police’s job is to respond to emergencies. It’s not all investigation.

          It’s sad that in a team of what is, conservatively say… 20 highly trained people, they can’t manage to respond *and* investigate simultaneously.

          Because whenever I hear about a police force overstepping their bounds, it’s inevitably because they’re investigating too much. Police departments everywhere need to learn to be more content with murder clearance rates below 90%. Not every crime is going to get solved with in the overzealous manner that they want it to be.

          1. 2017 Wichita swatting
            My summary: 18 Dec 2017 Call of Duty players Casey Vinter (Ohio) and Tyler Barriss (Calif.) placed a hoax call to police to get revenge on Shane Gaskill (Wichita Kansas) but gave the wrong address. According to his mom, Andrew Finch stepped out of his house after hearing noise outside, he screamed, then she heard a shot. Finch was killed by the one shot. None of the other officers fired. The Finch family were ordered out of their home, handcuffed, and taken to the station for questioning. Two days later the police excused the shooting by claiming Finch had reached for his waistband.

            A hoax SWATting call can be made against anyone, often with fatal consequences.

            1. I was being sarcastic. Murder clearance rates are something like 60% or lower across the nation (Chicago’s has consistently been below 30% for some time). Police are *always* in the news for shooting first and asking questions later.

              And your case is the perfect example. Even a trivial investigation to simple and up front questions like “How does a hostage situation get called in to Wichita from California?” and “Why are they calling the precinct directly and not 911?” should’ve given pause to what was effectively an order to shoot Andrew Finch on sight.

  10. “The principal and teacher agreed that the girl, Margot, had not intended to make a threat. But they informed the authorities anyway, citing a district policy that mandates safety threat assessments in all such cases.”

    How about a district policy requiring the firing of teachers and principles that are too stupid for words?

    1. Actually, keep the principles and fire the principals.

      1. That’s all well and good, but what does the union say?

        1. we work too much. moar vacay.

          1. Moar retirement money.
            Less icky kids on our classrooms.
            Real edumacation is hard, so less reading/writing/’rithmatic, music and art, and moar easy-peasy SJW indoctrination.
            Mora fancy teccy gadgets to distract the icky kids we’re forced to indoctrinate.
            Moar drugs to keep the icksters in line.

    2. How about a district policy requiring the firing of teachers and principles that are too stupid for words?

      How the hell do you expect the children to be edumacated if all “too stupid for words” teachers and *principals* got fired??? (Actually, kids teaching themselves might to better outcomes.)

    3. Preferably, fire them out of a cannon aimed at a brick wall.

  11. As with all “zero tolerance” policies, the intent is to subvert judgement and react the same to any and all situations so as to reduce any possible liability for making the wrong call.

    This worked out exactly as intended toward that end.

    1. As with all “zero tolerance” policies, the intent is to subvert judgement and react the same to any and all situations so as to reduce any possible liability for making the wrong call. charges of racism, sexism, antisemitism, homophobia, Islamaphobia, transphobia, agism, ableism, lookism, fat-shaming, slut-shaming, microaggressing, non-inclusivism or any other of a million forms of discrimination. You start making exceptions for 6-year olds with Down Syndrome and next thing you know, you’ll be getting demands for equal exceptions by 16-year olds with dandruff.

      1. And this idiocy is exactly what started rules with TSA doing body searches on 85 yr old grandmas from Kansas, so that everyone could pretend they were just as likely as likely as the 20 year old kid from Saudi, traveling with no luggage, a one-way ticket, and sweating like a pig in a sweater.

  12. The girl has Down syndrome and didn’t understand what she was saying, her mother told CBS Philly.

    Didn’t understand what she was saying? Sure. That’s what mass murderer apologists always say. Next thing you know, BLAM BLAM BLAM! “Well she just didn’t understand, waaaaahhh!”

  13. subjected to anti-Semitic threats

    Why isn’t it just racist/religious threats? Is a threat against Jews/Arabs/Phoenicians/Akkadians somehow worse than a threat against anyone else?

    1. Depends upon their intersectionality quotient. Between Israel and high representation among professions, Jewish people tend to rate rather low on that scale.

      1. Anti-Semitism is at the top of the list of leftist-approved forms of bigotry.

        And as far as Sparky goes, the disingenuous inclusion of those other “Semitic” peoples is a common trope among those who dislike Jews. The term anti-Semitic was coined in the late 1800s specifically to put a scientific cover on Jew hatred. It was never intended to mean Arabs (or any other extinct Semitic peoples).

        1. So apparently it is worse to do/say bad things to/about Jews than any other race/religion.

          1. Jews do have the Nazi Holocaust aimed at Jews to remember.
            Even some non-Jews find it hard to forget.

      2. Yeah, but they run all the media, so they get to decide what the narrative is.

  14. Was this a single shot “musket” type of finger gesture or a fully automatic “assault” finger gesture?

    1. Per Biden that was a really “high clip” fingernail. At least 30 snippets per second.

      1. Five digit revolver, like J-frame S&W .38 Spl, huge numbers in circulation and frequently used in crime due to proliferation, hands and J-frames both.

    2. normally finger guns have unlimited pew pew ability, the most dangerous kind of ammo

  15. I actually don’t even care that the kid has down syndrome. It’s a fucking 6 year old! Tell all the kids that they can’t do that and then call the parents to reinforce it at home. Ultimately, I don’t even think there is a problem with a child playing like that in any context. It’s just preparing the kid to function in this society to discourage the behavior

    1. Somehow everyone I grew up with managed to play “bang-bang you’re dead” without getting the cops called and none has murdered anyone as far as I know.

    2. That’s pretty much my view of it. My son is in preschool. One day he was running around the house with a used-up paper towel roll pretending to shoot bad guys. He turned to me and said, “Miss **** says it’s a bad choice to play guns.” I told him, “Ok, listen to your teacher and don’t play guns at school.” Otherwise, I don’t give a shit if he pretends ‘cops and robbers’, ‘cowboys and Indians’, etc. Never occurred to me that there’s even a remote possibility of police getting involved for something like that.

    3. I’m definitely not saying that there is anything wrong with a kid pretending to shoot a gun. I take mine to the range with me and have taught her how to safely handle firearms. Still, as a parent I want my kid to have the tools to succeed in life. Those include having actual survival skills as well as being able to navigate the increasingly restrictive rules of our pussified society. Too often I have to remind her not to say and do certain things at school or in public because it will get her in trouble

  16. Tredyffrin/Easttown School District Regulation 5401

    Supposedly the written policy itself does not mandate what actions were taken against the girl. The teacher and admin could have exercised judgement and not reported the girl since it was not a credible threat. I’ll let someone with more fluency in Bureaucratese read it and judge.

    1. The individuality of each student and each incident shall be taken into consideration in
      any disciplinary action.

    2. Luckily, I speak fluent Bureaucratese.

      The short answer is that the regulation is spectacularly poorly written, and doesn’t give the school people anything like clear guidance.

      Steps 1-5 seem reasonable enough (I mean, no – crazy town, but not ‘call the police and sit in a panic until they come’ crazy). And then Step 5’s eighteen sub-steps basically stay in workable territory until you get to:

      r. Police will be notified by the building administrator in situations involving possible criminal conduct such as threatening statements or actions towards others, or an intentional infliction or attempted infliction of bodily injury.

      Now your flow-chart bottlenecks at “threatening statements or actions towards others?” Yes? Call the police.

      While you wait for the police to show up, you can put together the Threat Assessment Team and start the psychological evaluation.

      1. Even though the language is “Police will be notified … in situations involving possible criminal conduct”, police should be notified only if the possibility of criminal conduct were credible to a reasonable person.

  17. “Valley Forge Elementary in Tredyffrin, Pennsylvania”

    Woo, local story! I live 2 minutes away. Heard about it this past weekend at family dinner, nice to see Reason covering it.

    1. This happened in one of those suburban townships that has moved from Red to Blue – at all levels of government – since the Bush administration. The pearl clutching soccer moms and girly men, are terrified of guns and those who own them. One morning most of them will wake up and find President Sanders has confiscated most of their comfy suburban lifestyle and then they will forget all about the crisis of a six year old making pointing gestures with fingers.

      1. What happened to all the security moms and hockey moms?

        1. They were offended by Trump’s undignified personae.

  18. School Calls Cops on 6-Year-Old With Down Syndrome Who Made Finger Gun Gesture

    There’s a bunch of retards in this story, and a girl with Down Syndrome.

    1. There’s a bunch of retards in this story, and a girl with Down Syndrome.

      I tried to say as much with more words and failed.

  19. In my limited experience with the mentally handicapped I’m seriously on the fence here:

    If a 6 yr. old with Down Syndrome shoots up a school of their own volition, shouldn’t that be applauded? Not only is acquiring and loading a gun, planning to bring it to school, firing it and hitting your target a big accomplishment but, again in my limited experience, as likely as not the “victims” likely had it coming to them.

  20. Unfortunately, district officials follow a policy of automatically calling the cops anytime someone’s safety is remotely threatened. Per The Washington Post:

    So since no one’s safety was remotely threatened, why did they call the cops?

    1. “Safety” means a lot of things these days.

  21. We need to outlaw high capacity finger magazines

    1. The Hangenberg Event took care of that for us.

  22. 1. Is this, by any chance, a government school?
    2. Was the teacher wearing a red coat?
    (This IS wintertime in Valley Forge!)

  23. 1. Is this a government school?
    2. Was the teacher wearing a red coat?
    (This IS wintertime in Valley Forge!)

  24. Well, we are supposed to believe women who say they are men, and believe men who say they are women; why shouldn’t we believe a kid who says a finger is a gun?

    #believeanything

  25. Did the finger gun go “bang!” or “pew pew”? If “pew pew” was there a license for the silencer?

    1. Did the finger gun go “bang!” or “pew pew”?

      I shootin’ off, Aye!

      1. If the 6-year-old retarded girl was finger-banging, they’d probably celebrate that.

  26. Until we change from fearing the government to the government fearing us, nothing will change. Ever.
    We are the government, folks. We are in charge.
    Start making, not asking, but making the government do as we say, show us respect, and fearing what we may do as their bosses.

  27. There was a study done back in the 70s that found that school administrators were more strict than prison wardens. Another example…

  28. district officials follow a policy of automatically calling the cops anytime someone’s safety is remotely threatened.

    “Yes, sorry to bother you again, Officer, but it just has come to my attention that Earth is constantly being bombarded by meteors.”

  29. What I want to know is who allowed this girl to bring a finger to school?

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  31. Even if you don’t fear the police, it’s amply clear that police are not even remotely qualified to do “safety assessments.” Just yesterday there was a story here about an autistic boy with epilepsy who had a seizure in the bathroom of a restaurant and the cops who responded took him away in handcuffs. There are also reports about them shooting suicidal fathers, gunning down men carrying books, shooting cats reported missing, etc.

    How incredibly reckless and stupid must these school administrators be to make calling the cops be their only solution to any problem (or non-problem, I’m the case of this 6-year old). It’s a way to greatly increase the danger level in an otherwise mostly non-dangerous situation.

    I’d like to see an example made of these morons by having them fired from the jobs and potentially “swatted,” so they see what it feels like to have the cops called on you for no reason.

    1. Hi. I would just direct you to my comment below:

      https://reason.com/2020/02/11/finger-gun-school-tredyffrin-valley-forge-down-syndrome/#comment-8127085

      [“While I agree that the response of the adults was moronic and worthy of immense ridicule, isn’t the real issue that retarded children are being educated at the public’s expense?”]

  32. Bad on the cops too for showing up to such a bullshit call. Its like taking seriously a 911 call from some lady in the Burger King drive thru whining about her burger not having enough pickles.

    1. Depending on what the school official said (probably nothing about it being a 6-year-old’s finger), the dispatcher may have felt the cops had better cover their ass just in case the threat is real.

      Remember the case of the young kid in a playground who was shot dead by the cops because he had a plastic toy gun? I thought much but not all of the blame rests on the moron who called 911 and said a kid is playing with a gun “I’m pretty sure it’s a toy gun.” If they were pretty sure it was a toy, why the hell did they feel a need to call 911.

      It’s like exercising even small amounts of common sense has been made illegal. Can’t reasonable adults assess most “threats” on their own?

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  34. While I agree that the response of the adults was moronic and worthy of immense ridicule, isn’t the real issue that retarded children are being educated at the public’s expense?

    1. I’m not saying (outright) that we implement an Aktion T4-type program…but wouldn’t society be better off without these incurable defectives?

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