CHICAGO, Ill.— After intervention by The Rutherford Institute, Chicago public school officials have agreed to expunge the record of an 11-year-old boy who was suspended and ordered to undergo counseling after he voluntarily turned in a non-firing plastic toy gun that had been forgotten in his jacket pocket. Caden Cook, a sixth grader at Fredrick Funston Elementary School, was suspended for allegedly violating the school’s weapons policy against dangerous objects, in addition to being ordered to undergo counseling, and allegedly subjected to intimidation tactics, interrogation, and dire threats by school officials—all without his mother being present.
In addition to rescinding the suspension and removing all references to the incident from Caden Cook’s permanent school record, school officials also agreed to forgo the counseling sessions and allow Caden to return to school in a timely manner. Security staff have also been retrained on proper search procedures, notably that student bags should only be searched when there is reason to believe a student is bringing a prohibited item to campus, and that students should never be subjected to physical pat-downs in the public screening area, or without parents first being alerted. In coming to Caden’s defense, Rutherford Institute attorneys had pointed out that Caden’s conduct does not rise to the level of serious disruptive behavior, given that he immediately alerted school officials to his accidental transgression and voluntarily turned in the toy once he realized his mistake, even prior to entering the screening area, nor does the plastic toy gun constitute a dangerous object by anyone’s standards.
“This is one of those rare occasions where reason prevails in the midst of the lunacy of zero tolerance policies, which are transforming our schools into quasi-prisons,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “Let us hope that other schools across the country will take note of this case, and realize that we will not stand idly by while our children are threatened by an increasingly authoritarian government that has no interest in the rights of students.”
As a part of the security and screening procedures at the school, all students are separated from their bags before going through the metal detectors at the school entrance. Additionally, some students’ bags are also searched if deemed “suspicious,” or if school officials believe a student is in possession of a prohibited item. Despite this policy, some students were being physically patted down and their bags were being searched seemingly at random. On Friday, January 31, 2014, sixth grader Caden Cook was waiting in the security line to go through the metal detector when he realized that he had mistakenly left in his sweater pocket a toy plastic gun which he had played with the previous night while he was out with friends and family. Caden immediately alerted the security personnel, explaining that he had accidentally brought the plastic toy to school, and relinquished it to them. Instead of recognizing that Caden was attempting to do the right thing, school officials allegedly subjected the 11-year-old to a physical pat-down, intimidation tactics, interrogation, accusations of lying, and threats. All of this was done in the absence of Caden’s mother and without her having been informed of the incident. When she was finally alerted, Caden’s mother was allegedly berated and criticized for allowing her son to use toy guns.