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On The Front Lines

Zero Tolerance: Chicago School Officials Suspend 11-Year-Old Boy Under ‘Dangerous Weapons’ Policy for Voluntarily Turning in Non-Firing Toy Gun

CHICAGO, Il.— Criticizing Chicago school officials for being overzealous, misguided and incapable of distinguishing between an impotent toy and a dangerous weapon, The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of an 11-year-old boy who was suspended from school 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 subjected to intimidation tactics, interrogation, and dire threats by school officials—all without his mother being present. Rutherford Institute attorneys have asked that the suspension be rescinded and all references to the incident be removed from Caden’s permanent school record.

“This case speaks volumes about what’s wrong with our public schools and public officials: rather than school officials showing they are capable of exercising good judgment, distinguishing between what is and is not a true threat, and preserving safety while steering clear of a lockdown mindset better suited to a prison environment, they instead opted to exhibit poor judgment, embrace heavy handed tactics, and treat a toy gun like a dangerous weapon,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “In the process, school officials sent a strong, chilling message to this child and his classmates that they have no rights in the American police state.”

Frederick Funston Elementary School introduced a random “pat down” to its security and screening procedures at the beginning of this school year. All students are physically separated from their bags and randomly chosen for a manual “pat down” before going through the metal detectors.  Students’ bags are also separately searched at random. On Friday, January 31, 2014, sixth grader Caden Cook was waiting in the school line to be patted down 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. Realizing his error and that the toy was a prohibited item on school grounds, Caden alerted the security personnel to his predicament, explaining that he had accidentally brought the plastic toy to school and relinquishing the toy to school security personnel. Instead of recognizing that Caden was attempting to do the right thing and acknowledging the mistake, school officials allegedly subjected the 11-year-old to 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. Upon her arrival, Caden’s mother was berated and criticized for allowing her son to use toy guys.

In coming to Caden’s defense, Rutherford Institute attorneys point 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 the school’s standards or anyone else’s.


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