Anne Arundel County school officials say a second-grader suspended last year after nibbling a pastry into the shape of a gun wasn't sanctioned solely for that incident, but also for classroom disruptions preceding it.
A school system-appointed hearing examiner is conducting a review of the two-day suspension of then-second grader Joshua Welch, who was sent home from Park Elementary School in Brooklyn Park in March 2013 after nibbling a pastry into the shape of a gun.
The case drew national media attention, as well as an effort at the General Assembly to prohibit suspending students for having gun "facsimiles." Welch's father, B.J. Welch, has been outspoken against the suspension, and the family has since transferred the boy to another county public school.
The family's attempts to have the matter removed from the youngster's school record have been denied by school officials, prompting the appeal heard Tuesday by school system hearing examiner Andrew Nussbaum.
School officials told Nussbaum that the suspension was the culmination of several disruptive behaviors by the boy, including one in which he struck another student. "He was suspended for ongoing classroom disruption," said Anne Arundel schools director of legal services Laurie Pritchard.
But Robin Ficker, an attorney for the family, argued that the school system had previously said it suspended Joshua for the pastry incident — not previous issues.
"The Anne Arundel County school board is now bringing other facts into light that aren't relevant," Ficker said. "For some reason [the school system] doesn't want to let go of Joshua Welch. They are trying to terrorize him and demonize him."
B.J. Welch said he was led to believe his son's two-day suspension was triggered by heightened concerns officials had about guns, and said many of the school system's assertions about his son's behavior and punishments had not been conveyed to him until Tuesday.
"There was no reference to previous situations," Welch said. "The big reference point ... was the whole gun issue, the presence of something shaped like a gun and Josh acting like what he had in his hand was a gun and pointed it like a gun. It was that there was no place for the subject of guns at school, and people get scared easily."
Joshua, who was 7 at the time of the incident and is now 9, testified on his own behalf, saying he understands that he is supposed to pay attention in class and needed to concentrate and keep from being disruptive.
Asked by Ficker if he wanted to see his record cleared, he said, "Yes I want that taken off my record. I don't think it should be on my record."
Following Tuesday's hearing, Nussbaum will forward a recommendation to the school board, which will render a decision.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun