Photo: Courtesy of the Everett Collection
A 9-year-old boy who boasted to a classmate that he could make him vanish has disappeared himself – from school. Fourth-grader Aiden Steward was suspended from his elementary school in Kermit, Texas, on Friday, one day after making the alleged “terroristic threat,” as the Odessa American describes it, of promising another child he’d render him invisible with his fictional “one ring” from the J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy series The Lord of the Rings. “It sounded unbelievable,” dad Jason Steward tells the New York Daily News, maintaining that his son “didn’t mean anything by it.”
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Aiden and his family had gone to see The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies the weekend before, and the father says his son was innocently making-believe. “Kids act out movies that they see. When I watched Superman as a kid, I went outside and tried to fly,” Steward says, adding, “I assure you my son lacks the magical powers necessary to threaten his friend’s existence. If he did, I’m sure he’d bring him right back.”
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But principal Roxanne Greer didn’t see the charm in Aiden’s supernatural pretending and issued disciplinary action. The father says Greer told him that threats to another child’s safety would not be tolerated, even if they were make believe. The administrator declined to comment, insisting, “All student stuff is confidential.” Kermit Independent School District Superintendent Bill Boyd didn’t return Yahoo Parenting’s requests for comment.
The Texas Education Code, however, mandates that this type of mandatory leave “may not exceed three school days,” so Aiden should be back in action at school this week. Aiden’s dad says the family knows the deal by now. Aiden has experienced two in-school suspensions already this school year year — one for referring to a fellow student as “black” reports the New York Daily News, and the other for bringing “The Big Book of Knowledge” to school, which his teacher reportedly had an issue with because of its illustrations of a pregnant woman. “He loves that book,” says the dad. “They were studying the solar system and he took it to school. He thought his teacher would be impressed.”
Though the Stewards don’t believe Aiden’s actions warrant suspension, the principal was within her rights to issue the leave if she believed Aiden’s classmate’s “emotional health” was harmed. The Texas Education Code’s student code includes suspension as a means of “preventing and intervening in student discipline problems, including bullying, harassment, and making hit lists.” Under the guidelines harassment is defined as: “threatening to cause harm or bodily injury to another student, engaging in sexually intimidating conduct, causing physical damage to the property of another student, subjecting another student to physical confinement or restraint, or maliciously taking any action that substantially harms another student’s physical or emotional health or safety.”
Suspension and expulsion as a means of discipline has gotten out of control, though, acknowledged the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice last year in the “Discipline Guideline Package to Enhance School Climate and Improve School Discipline Policies/Practices.”
“Too many schools are still struggling to create positive, safe environments,” reads a press release for the material, issued Jan. 8, 2014. “Effective teaching and learning cannot take place unless students feel safe at school,” levels U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Positive discipline policies can help create safer learning environments without relying heavily on suspensions and expulsions. Schools also must understand their civil rights obligations and avoid unfair disciplinary practices. We need to keep students in class where they can learn.”
It’s a worthy mission, considering that today not even preschoolers are exempt from being suspended, according to the U.S. Department of Education, which indicates that such disciplinary measures have a debilitating impact on students – for life. “Research suggests that school expulsion and suspension practices are associated with negative educational and life outcomes,” the policy statement on expulsion and suspension policies in early childhood settings reveals. “Suspension and expulsion can influence a number of adverse outcomes across development, health, and education. Young students who are expelled or suspended are as much as 10 times more likely to drop out of high school, experience academic failure and grade retention, hold negative school attitudes, and face incarceration than those who are not.” And that’s a problem it’ll take a lot more than Aiden or his Lord of the Rings’ magic to fix.