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The Greyhound

The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

Alabama school makes 5-year old sign ‘Safety Contract’


A new threat to our nation’s security and our children’s lives has risen. Elizabeth, a five-year-old girl from Mobile, Alabama is alleged to have pointed a crayon at another student and said “Pew! Pew!” Thankfully school officials disciplined the toddling terrorist and made her sign a “Safety Contract” in which she was asked to confess any suicidal or homicidal urges or a history of depression.

This girl is five years old, and she was asked to sign her name on a document that asked her to profile herself psychologically using technical, clinical terms.

Her mother Rebecca spoke with WPMI in Mobile: “While I was in the lobby waiting they had my 5-year-old sign a contract about suicide and homicide.”

School shooting hysteria has gone off the rails. Let’s ignore that in the state of Alabama it is illegal for minors to sign a contract. What kind of adult who considers themself to be a reasonable person would ever entertain the idea of making a five-year-old child explain any “homicidal or suicidal” thoughts she might be having because she used her crayon as a toy gun?

The contract Elizabeth signed was written in words her mother says “she’s never heard in her life.”

School shootings are monumental tragedies, tragedies that we must go to great lengths to prevent. But there comes a point when precautionary measures cross the line into unacceptability. Ordering five year olds to sign contracts swearing not to kill themselves or others is such a measure.

“My child interrupted us and said, ‘What is suicide, mommy? Daddy, what is suicide?”said Rebecca. “As a parent that’s not right. I’m the one who should be able to talk to my child and not have someone else mention words like this in front of her at all.”

The school’s outrageous handling of Elizabeth certainly illustrate the vise grip of fear Newtown, Virginia Tech and Columbine still have our country in. Imagine if you worked in a school district and a red flag for a shooting passed you by: it’d be darn near impossible to forgive yourself – I can understand why officials might overreact.

And yet it’s still ridiculous. We’re aware what happened to Elizabeth was silly, and we know it’s not okay to interrogate a five year old about any hidden homicidal thoughts.

The most troubling thing to me, and I imagine many others, is that paranoia in our defenses against school shootings undermines credibility completely.

Can we really trust officials this skittish, wrongheaded and paranoid as to do something this crazy to have the wherewithal to block credible threats or respond to them reasonably?

I’m not going to say the hurt feelings of a few five year olds is worth loosing our vigilance witih regards to school shootings. Though it was just play, the school should have spoken with Elizabeth after she used her crayon like a gun and it could have been a teaching moment. It could have been a moment for a teacher to say, “Now Elizabeth, guns are very serious things, not toys. They can really hurt people.” But paranoia won out over pragmatism.

It’s tempting to say that we should do whatever it takes to stop school shootings. “At all costs.” is a phrase thrown about often. This would be unreasonable though. Is interrogating five year olds about latent urges to kill themselves and others really a decision we want to entertain? If we do that, why don’t we just ask every kindergartener about suicide and homicide in daily pyschological inventories? We should go to great lengths to stop school shootings, not infinite lengths.

Rebecca said that school officials have requested Elizabeth see a psychiatrist. If that isn’t a perfect encapsulation of the problem at the heart of this, I don’t know what is.

Students talking about guns in school should never be ignored. Elizabeth should’ve been talked to by her teacher. But then hours and days after overreacting with that silly contract a panel of professional adults thought it was appropriate to recommend psychopharmalogical help. Ostensibly, people deliberated to make this decision, absent of paranoia, and still chose wrong. We need to be able to trust our educators to respond effectively, but reasonably.

As it stands, reasonableness is not what we’re seeing. We’re seeing our school leaders act fearfully, reactionarily, and irrationally. In the wake of school shootings in this country, we must be calling for more than just vigilance. Most of all, school leaders need to deal with the fear of violence with caution and precision, not more fear.

(photo via)


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Alabama school makes 5-year old sign ‘Safety Contract’