By Deb Belt
Anne Arundel County, Maryland
Assault with a tasty pastry?
Josh Welch, 9, was suspended for two days after a teacher said he nibbled a Pop Tart into the shape of a gun in April 2013. Welch now seeks to clear his name.
Was Welch a threat to classmates or behaving in an alarming manner that required punishment? Or is he a victim of a reactionary school system unable to apply common sense to broad policies?
A hearing was held Tuesday for Welch, who has become a national symbol for gun rights advocates. Afterward, politicians scrambled to his cause, and one even gave him a lifetime membership to the NRA.
According to an earlier Patch story, Josh said he was suspended two days for fashioning his food into what his teacher interpreted as a gun. But Josh and his father said he was making a mountain out of his food, and not a gun.
The boy’s father still calls the punishment “outrageous.”
"Zero tolerance takes away the ability to think and to make judgment calls on certain scenarios," said B.J. Welch in a WJLA TV report.
Josh said the incident is difficult for him to recall. “I don't think I remember because that was like a year ago."
At Tuesday’s hearing, for the first time Josh’s teacher and the Anne Arundel County School system gave their version of the events from a year ago at Park Elementary School in Baltimore.
Teacher Jessica Fultz said the suspension wasn’t about a so-called "Pop-Tart gun," but rather a daily pattern of escalating classroom disruption and even violence by Josh.
Fultz also said the boy had threatened classmates and made shooting noises, chewing the gun shape with his breakfast food more than once.
Josh’s father says that the claim that his son disrupted class was not shared with him before.
“I don't think he was suspended because he was being rowdy. I think he was suspended because of the sensitive nature of the topic," Welch said.
The hearing officer will make a recommendation about the incident to the Anne Arundel school board, which will then decide whether or not to clear Josh's record.