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Is Twirling a Pencil in School a Bona Fide Threat? [POLL/AUDIO]

A Vernon Township seventh-grader is now back in school after he was suspended several days for twirling a pencil between his fingers.

Pencils
Joe Corrigan, Getty Images

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The youngster, Ethan Chaplin, was hustled out of the building when another student saw the pencil movement and yelled out, “He’s making gun motions, send him to juvie.”

According to Frank Belluscio, director of communications for the New Jersey School Boards Association, all districts are strongly urged to develop a policy covering threats of violence.

“It’s critical that the students report to a teacher, to the principal or a guidance counselor their knowledge of the threat of violence,” Belluscio said, “and the school would then take appropriate action in accordance with its own disciplinary policies.”

He said in some cases, local police would be notified about a potential threat.

“It’s understandable some people might think this is going overboard,” Belluscio said. “However, the school district is required to act on the side of caution. It does have to be investigated — and it is erring on the side of caution — this is a different world now and we can’t dismiss certain actions as childhood pranks.”

Child psychologist Dr. Steven Tobias said a certain balance has shifted after numerous instances of school violence.

“The pendulum is swinging over to not letting anything go by, where everything is assessed as a potential risk, but in some instances we are going overboard and labeling kids in certain situations that are really not necessary,” Tobias said.

He went on to say that kids will be kids, and schools should use judgment in situations like this.

“I could see one friend saying this about his friend, not to get him in trouble, but just to screw around,” Tobias said. “I mean, this is what boys do. They yell out things in class, they bust each other’s chops.”

Context is important, according to Tobias.

“Is this two kids fooling around,” he said, “or is this a serious situation? I think we’re all searching for a balance in these situations; I just don’t think we’ve found it yet.”

 

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