Pennsylvania Teen Could Face Charges After Playing With Toy Gun During Online Class

Daylight! Hangover! #facepalm" by whatleydude is marked with CC BY 2.0 DEED.

A 13-year-old in York County, Pennsylvania has been suspended from school and could face criminal charges after his teacher spotted him playing with a toy gun during a virtual class held while kids were stuck at home after a snowstorm. 


Jennifer Atienza says she was already on her way home Tuesday morning when officials with the Spring Grove Area School District called and informed her that her son Brandon had shown a gun during the online class. When she called him to ask what had happened, he told her that he was playing with an Orbeez toy revolver, and also informed her that there was a police officer outside their home.

When she arrived home, she found a Northern York County Regional Police officer waiting outside her house.

She said the officer confiscated the toy gun and informed her that Brandon would be charged with disorderly conduct, facing either a fine or community service. 

Police logs from Northern York County Regional Police Department show that officers were called to the family's North Codorus Township home around 8:57 a.m. Tuesday for "Disorderly conduct/Harassment."

When asked why a school disciplinary action would result in charges, Jennifer said the officer told her that the school had the choice to press charges and did. Yet, when Jennifer called the school, she says she was told it was the officer's call.

"100% he should not have been playing with anything, let alone a toy gun, on Zoom," said Jennifer. "I'm not saying that he was smart in doing that."

Still, she is confused about why it has become a criminal matter and not just left to school and home disciplinary action.

Atienza says she's also heard two different versions of what led up to the police response; one from her son and one from district officials. 


In Brandon's account to his mother, the toy gun had fallen off of his TV stand and he had picked it up when it fell. She said Brandon told her he was asked by the teacher "what are you doing," to which he replied, "I'm going to put this away."

She said school officials recounted a different version of events: Brandon joined the Zoom class with the toy gun in his hands and said "look what I have."

Jennifer said she was told there was no recording of the class, and that troubles her, as Brandon has always been told by the teachers that they were recording the classes when they start a class.

Jennifer said both the officer involved and a school official told her that the disorderly conduct charge stems from "disrupting class." Brandon told her, however, that he was not kicked off the Zoom and that he simply put it down.

"Are we going to start charging every kid that creates a disruption with disorderly conduct?" she asked.

We've seen similar overreactions in other school districts in the past, including in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, where two students faced expulsion and were ultimately suspended after they were seen with BB guns during online classes. This is one of the first cases that I can recall, however, where there was talk of filing criminal charges, and if it's true that her son wasn't kicked out of the online class then it's hard to argue that he created so much of a disruption that he should be charged with disorderly conduct. 


Was it a good idea for the teen to handle a toy gun on camera, even if it was only to put it away after it had fallen? No. At this point, both students and parents have to expect that school districts are going to freak out any time there's the slightest possibility of a kid having a gun, even if it is clearly a toy or a BB gun, and even if the display takes place during a virtual class and not on campus. If it falls to the floor let it rest there until class time is over, and don't play around with it on camera. 

On the other hand, once the district and law enforcement became aware of the fact that this was a toy, and not a real firearm, officials should have taken a deep breath and paused to consider the ramifications of their own actions. From my perspective, this deserves a sit-down with the student, parents, and the principal to discuss why it's not appropriate to play around with toy guns during class, but criminal charges or even a suspension from school is an over-the-top reaction to what, by all accounts, was a stupid mistake on the part of a 13-year-old kid. 

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